After meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair, PM Netanyahu today announced a ministerial committee to work on improving the economic situation and the quality of life for the Palestinians.
Members include Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Minister Silvan Shalom; Netanyahu himself will chair the committee. Shalom has been asked to begin with economic projects in Jenin and Jericho. Also, at the Qasr al-Yehud baptismal site, which is on the Jordan River, near Jericho, although I haven’t a remote clue as to what sort of economic project would be initiated at a baptismal site.
The release about this emphasizes that the projects are in line with the economic track to peace that Netanyahu had announced earlier. May be. But I would describe this as the do-something-for-the-Palestinians-to-show-good intentions announcement that is traditionally a precursor to high level meetings between our officials and US officials.
Also announced was outreach by Netanyahu to Egyptian president Mubarak. Eager to stress Egypt’s diplomatic importance, Netanyahu will be traveling to Sharm el Sheikh on Monday for a meeting. This will be his first trip abroad since assuming office.
Netanyahu wants to see greater involvement by the “moderate” states — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — in what is alluded to as “the peace process” — whatever that entails at present — which would be approached at a regional level. (Note: while Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, Saudi Arabia is technically still at war with us.)
Just as important, if not more so, in Netanyahu’s meeting with Mubarak is seeking Egyptian cooperation in thwarting Iran’s nuclear goals.
Egypt is not a nation to be trusted, nor one that has ever exhibited good will towards Israel. But Sunni Egypt fears and hates Shiite Iran and will find a measure of common cause with Israel here. Of some concern, however, have been recent statements by Mubarak regarding the dangers of Israel as a nuclear power. (Mubarak’s position is that the Middle East would be safer nuclear-free.)
Word had come in the last few days — from anonymous Arab diplomatic sources — that the Obama administration had requested of the Arab League that the Arab (Saudi) peace plan be adjusted in order to be more palatable to Israel. The Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper on Tuesday then indicated the Arabs were considering concessions, most specifically with regard to withdrawing the demand for the return of refugees and permitting UN control of the Old City of Jerusalem, where holy sites are situated.
But there has now been a rejection of the request in several quarters:
“It is not possible to amend the Arab peace initiative. … I don’t see any justification for amending this initiative,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told a press conference.
Similarly, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has voiced his rejection.
And the PA news agency Maan has quoted PA president Mahmoud Abbas as saying that there will be “no new document,” as all sides were in agreement regarding the soundness of the current proposal.
At the same time, it has been announced that Abbas will be asking prime minister Salem Fayyad to begin formation of a new government without inclusion of Hamas. He’s tired of waiting on failed negotiations; he will attend one more meeting on May 16, where he expects nothing will be achieved.
And where does this leave Barack Obama and his grand plans to push ahead peace between Israel and the Palestinians?
It is clear that the Arabs are adamant — as is their wont — that there will be no compromise on right of return or control of all eastern Jerusalem.
And if there is no unity government, he’s stuck with the problem of what happens with Hamas and Gaza.
One might hope that this dose of reality might set him back a bit, give him just a little pause, inject a note of humility into his assumption that he can succeed here. But that would be silly. He is Barack Obama. He is the president. And he is going to go ahead with his new plan.
In fact, not only is he going full steam ahead on this front, he is also pushing for us to negotiate with Syria. Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top Middle East envoy, and White House official Daniel Shapiro have gone to Damascus as part of the Obama plan to reach out to nations shunned by President Bush.
“We came here today as part of President Obama’s commitment to use diplomacy, to use dialogue in order to try to see where we can move forward,” said Feltman.
After a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Feltman indicated that he had conveyed “President Obama’s sincere commitment to pursue Arab-Israeli peace on all tracks including on the Syria-Israel track.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been tasked with overseeing “strategic dialogue” with the US. I’ll have more definitive information on this in due course.
Additionally, he will be heading a ministerial committee to lead the Israeli struggle against lawsuits filed around the world against Israelis — public figures, ministers, military and defense officials — their goal being to foil these actions.
In a spate of highly politicized and deeply anti-Israel maneuvers, various parties are abusing universal jurisdiction laws that permit charges to be brought in courts in one country against parties in another, even if the country in which the charges are brought has nothing to do with the issue.
The committee will include Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein and Minister Yossi Peled. They will call upon the services of experts in international law, PR, and more.
This is a serious matter — just one more attempt to delegitimize and weaken Israel, and I applaud the seriousness with which the new government is approaching this.
The first issue to be addressed will be the reopening in Spanish court of the matter of the 2002 assassination of Hamas official Salah Shehadeh.
“The Good News Corner”
The news is so often grim, I’ve decided to make an effort to also share good news (largely non-political) with my readers from time to time.
— Research by geneticist Prof. Karen Avraham of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and Dr. Lilach Friedman and other post-doctoral researchers in her lab, has brought about a discovery that may lead to a cure for deafness, whether caused by genetics, disease, aging, or drugs.
Single-stranded RNA molecules, called MicroRNAs, regulate gene expression in cells and decide whether proteins will be produced. The research team has discovered for the first time that these molecules are vital to the development and survival of hair cells in the inner ear necessary for normal hearing.
Healthy babies are born with 15,000 sensory hair cells in each ear, which are responsible for translating sounds to electrical pulses. When these cells die off hearing disability results. Avraham believes that scientists now need to figure out how MicroRNAs regulate hair cell growth.
— Scientists at the Weizmann Institute have been researching the nature of sea urchin teeth. While these animals dig themselves holes for shelter in underwater limestone, the sharp edge of their teeth never grows dull or blunt. Their teeth in the main are composed of the same calcite as the limestone, but they also contain crystals of magnesium calcite that are harder.
What is more, all the crystalline elements are aligned in two different arrays that are interlocked like the fingers of folded hands, just at the tip of the tooth. It is believed that this interlocking results in a notched, serrated ridge — like that of a carpenter’s file — that is self-sharpening. As the tooth is ground down, the crystalline layers break in such a way that the ridge always stays serrated.
It is hoped that the information being explored will lead to the development of ever-sharp tools and mechanical parts that do not go blunt.
— A new archeological garden has been opened outside the Knesset, on display are some artifacts that are 2,000 years old.