This effort was begun by Yasser Arafat, who amazed then-President Bill Clinton a decade ago by claiming that Jews did not build the Bais Hamikdash on the Har Habayis. Since then, other Arab and Islamic figures have sought to rewrite any part of the Chumash which connects the Jewish people to the city. Now the PA, under Mahmoud Abbas is taking the effort one step further, denying the Koselâ€™s ancient status as the holiest Jewish shrine in the world. In a new posting on the official PA website, the Palestinians claim that Jews did not begin to treat the Kosel as a holy site until after the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492.
The PA website posting contains numerous blatant historic inaccuracies and outright lies. It ignores the huge body of evidence, from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources, which testify that Jews from all over the world have come to pour out their hearts in prayer at the Kosel, as the sole surviving remnant of the outer compound of the Bayis Sheni, since the Churban 1940 years ago.
The Palestinian attempts to deny the Koselâ€™s spiritual significance must be seen in the political context of Abbasâ€™ demands that Yerushalayim be included in the new 3-month construction freeze that is being negotiated between Israel and the US. Abbas insists that he will not return to the negotiating table with Israel until this new demand is accepted. It has become the main obstacle to finalizing the freeze deal between the US and Israel, and threatens to undermine the determined efforts by the Obama administration to restart the peace talks.
The Israeli government, of course, rejects the Palestinian attempts to deny the Jewish peopleâ€™s ancient connection to Yerushalayim, the Har Habayis and the Kosel. To underline that rejection, the government announced its approval last week of a new multimillion dollar tourist center for the Kosel plaza, even though consideration of other construction projects in the city are on hold. The PA, of course, has condemned the new Kosel plaza project as illegal.
FREEZE DEAL NEARING COMPLETION
Over the past week, US officials refused to confirm reported details of the package of benefits that the US is prepared to give Israel in return for a one time, 3-month renewal of the voluntary 10-month freeze that Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed last year. However, they did confirm that negotiations to finalize the deal were continuing.
Numerous sources confirm that the US has offered to provide Israel with an additional 20 next-generation F-35I attack jets, as well as other significant military, strategic and diplomatic benefits in return for agreeing to the freeze. The US is promising to block any Palestinian attempts to avoid direct negotiations and seek UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.
The negotiations over a new freeze began months before the initial freeze expired on September 26. The addition of the F-35I’s to the offer did not take place until a 7-hour meeting November 11 between Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The planes would be added to an order placed in August for 20 planes to be built to Israelâ€™s custom-specifications. The aircraft, still under development by Lockheed-Martin, would be delivered to Israel starting in 2015. The 20 planes are worth about $3 billion. They are superior to any other military aircraft in the world, and would provide a major addition to Israelâ€™s qualitative military advantage over its enemies in the region for decades to come.
In its latest offer, the US has lengthened the proposed duration of the new freeze from 2 months to 3 months. Over the weekend, Netanyahuâ€™s National Security Adviser, Uzi Arad, said that the US has already guaranteed in writing that once the new freeze expires, it would not ask Israel for any further freezes.
NEW DOUBTS ABOUT ABBASâ€™ SINCERITY
Arad said he wasnâ€™t certain that a final peace agreement could be reached with Abbas. He suggested that Abbasâ€™ imposition of new preconditions on resuming the talks raises doubts about his true intentions, and whether he is really interested in reaching a peace accord.
â€œFor a year we have seen Abbasâ€™ refusal to go to direct talks. We see him grasping at different pretexts in order to avoid them, even though no pre-conditions are being asked of him. He is not willing to talk under the same conditions that he talked with us when Olmert was the prime minister. This raises questions,â€ Arad said.
Arad then added that, â€œonly the future will tell whether we have a partner for a permanent agreement.â€ He suggested that if a permanent agreement canâ€™t be reached, Israel should try for another interim agreement that would create a Palestinian state within provisional borders, while putting off the resolution of more difficult issues, such as the final status of Yerushalayim, to the future. Palestinians have consistently rejected the idea of reaching any more interim deals.
In discussing the negotiations over the new freeze, Arad said that Israel had three primary objectives. The first is securing a second squadron of F-35I planes for the Israeli air force. The second is making sure that this would be the last time that the US would ask Israel to impose a construction freeze. And the third is getting a firm commitment from the US that it would use its full authority at the UN, including a Security Council veto if necessary, to keep the Palestinians from getting UN recognition of a state without first reaching a negotiated agreement with Israel. He added that Israel would insist that any final agreement with the Palestinians would require them to formally recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
US PROVIDING SOME WRITTEN GUARANTEES, BUT NOT OTHERS
In Washington, meanwhile, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the US had agreed to an Israeli request â€œto put certain understandings in writing.â€ He responded to criticism from some circles that the benefit package Israel would receive is â€œexcessive.â€ Without providing any specifics as to what exactly was being offered to Israel, Crowley said that a new freeze, â€œis important to the region. It is important to our national security. Itâ€™s important to the future of Israel and a prospective Palestinian state. How do you put a price tag on that? We are interested in doing what needs to be done to see a two-state solution. That is something that goes beyond a particular price tag on a particular set of actions.â€
Reportedly, Netanyahu has also asked for a written commitment by the US exempting Jewish construction in Yerushalayim from the new freeze. So far, he hasnâ€™t gotten it.
YERUSHALAYIM STILL THE STICKING POINT
The original 10-month freeze did not include any restrictions on construction in Yerushalayim, although quietly, Netanyahu ordered a halt to approvals of new construction in the city after a public spat with the US over the issue in March.
Netanyahuâ€™s Shas coalition partners have warned him that they would block any effort to renew the freeze unless it specifically included an exception that allows unrestricted construction in Yerushalayim. Shas is calling for new construction on a large scale to ease the severe Jewish housing shortage in the city. The rest of the Israeli cabinet is believed to be almost evenly divided over whether to agree to a renewal of the freeze. Shasâ€™ ministers hold the balance of power.
The US has remained publicly silent on whether the new freeze should include Yerushalayim. However, Netanyahu has already agreed to coordinate government approvals of any new construction projects in the city informally with the White House, even before a new freeze takes effect.
Scheduled government approval for at least one new housing project in Yerushalayim has been postponed indefinitely. However, on Sunday, the prime minister allowed the government to announce plans for the new tourist center in the Kosel plaza. This was in line with Netanyahuâ€™s speech in New Orleans earlier this month, in which he condemned a UNESCO declaration which denied the historic connection between the Jewish people and Kever Rachel, Meoras Hamachpelah, and other holy places throughout Eretz Yisroel.
ISRAEL SAYS ABBAS IS RAISING NEW OBSTACLES
Israel calls PA demands for a blanket construction freeze as a precondition, a significant hardening of the Palestinian position. Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations continued off and on for 15 years, from 1993 to 2008, without the issue being raised. The demand was added after President Obama tried publicly to pressure the Israeli government into halting all new construction in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim a few months after taking office in 2008.
The Obama administration eventually backed off after Israel proved its point that the freeze demand violated a prior US-Israeli agreement. As the deadline for the expiration of the original freeze imposed voluntary by Netanyahu approached, it was understood that the terms of any extension of the freeze would be modeled on the first one, which explicitly excluded any formal restriction on construction in Yerushalayim. However, the Obama administration, including the president himself, have continued to criticize all Israeli announcements of new construction projects in the city as â€œunhelpfulâ€ to the peace process.
This has encouraged Abbas and the PA to adopt Obamaâ€™s initial total freeze demand, and they are using it as a ready-made excuse to avoid returning to the negotiating table.
â€œIf there is not a complete freeze on settlement in all the Palestinian territories, including Yerushalayim, we will not accept it,â€ Abbas said in Cairo on Sunday after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
ARABS FEIGNING IGNORANCE OF THE US DEAL
Abbas continues to pretend that the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the US over the new freeze are unrelated to the future of the peace process. He also claims that the US has yet to make an â€œofficial requestâ€ that he return to the negotiations which he broke off in September after only two negotiating sessions, one hosted by Obama in the White House, and the other hosted by Mubarak two weeks later.
â€œThey [the US and Israel] have a strategic relationship and we have nothing to do with this,â€ Abbas said in Cairo. â€œBut linking the weapons supply to the resumption of the direct talks is completely unacceptable.â€
Abbas said that as soon as he heard the new American proposal, he would bring it to the Arab League and various Palestinian institutions for their approval. PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has agreed to convene the Arab foreign ministers to discuss the future of the peace process once the Americans release the details of the new freeze proposal.
Abbas has also told the US that â€œwe canâ€™t continue with the negotiations if Israel wants to resume settlement activities. A cessation of settlement construction must be comprehensive and must include Yerushalayim.â€
ABBAS AND HAMAS STILL IN CONFLICT
One of the main reasons why Abbas keeps trying to raise new excuses to avoid serious peace talks was highlighted again this week when the latest efforts to heal the deep rift between Hamas and Abbasâ€™ Fatah party collapsed because of accusations of bad faith by both sides. The Hamas leadership in Damascus accused Abbas of sabotaging reconciliation efforts by launching a new wave of arrests of Hamas leaders in the West Bank. The Hamas statement called the arrests a â€œprovocationâ€ that â€œprove Abbas is not serious in wanting to achieve a reconciliation (with Hamas).â€ It also charged that Abbasâ€™ security forces were working â€œin close coordination with those of the Israeli occupationâ€ in the West Bank.
Last week, Fatah accused Hamas of plotting to kill one of its governors in the West Bank, and rounded up a number of suspects in connection with the alleged plot.
ONE OF ABBASâ€™ JEWISH SUPPORTERS RAISES HIS OBJECTIONS
Meanwhile, Abbas continues to seek international support for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. He cites as justification Israelâ€™s refusal to impose the total construction freeze he has demanded. Abbas also counts among his supporters Jewish pro-peace activists who oppose any further Israeli West Bank construction.
These include former US ambassador to Israel and Egypt Daniel Kurtzer. In an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post last week, Kurtzer criticized the US offer to trade F-35s for a 3-month renewal of the freeze as â€œrewarding Israel for bad behavior.â€
Kurtzer, a Shomer Shabbos American Jew, was one of a small group of Clinton administration Middle East experts, including Dennis Ross and Aaron David Miller, all of them Jews, who enthusiastically supported the Oslo peace process. To this day, they refuse to recognize or accept the larger implications of Osloâ€™s failure, and are all still involved in promoting its failed precepts.
Ross is now one of the leading memberâ€™s of Obamaâ€™s Middle East policy team. Kurtzer promotes the Oslo ideals as a member of Princeton Universityâ€™s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, while Miller is also writing along the same vein while working at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
KURTZER ACCUSES OBAMA OF TRYING TO BRIBE ISRAEL
Kurtzer makes no secret of his vehement opposition to Israeli construction in what he calls â€œthe occupied territories.â€ He condemns the US package offered in return for the freeze as â€œthe first direct benefit that the United States has provided Israel for settlement activities that we have opposed for more than 40 years.â€ He warns that it could lead to demands from the Palestinians for similar compensation in return for halting â€œthe incitement against Israel and Jews in their public media and some educational materials.â€ Kurtzer ignores the fact that even though such incitement is specifically banned in signed Israeli-Palestinian peace treaties, building new Jewish homes projects in Yerushalayim and the West Bank is not.
He predicts that while, â€œWashington will almost certainly come to regret bribing Israel, Israel may regret receiving such a bribe even more.â€
He suggests that by agreeing to the deal, Israel would be weakening Americaâ€™s historic commitment to Israelâ€™s security. He writes that, â€œif it goes through, this deal will shake the foundation of the U.S.-Israeli strategic partnership. Since the early 1980s, the two countries have cooperated closely on assessing Israeli security, and Washington has promised to ensure Israel’s â€˜qualitative military edgeâ€™ over any combination of potential Arab adversaries. . .
â€œBy subjecting Israel’s defense needs to the political demands of an American administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done something quite dangerous for Israel – he has made those needs contingent, negotiable, optional. Israel’s security requirements are now merely a bargaining chip with which to negotiate what Jerusalem will or will not do to advance the peace process.â€
AN IMPERFECT US-ISRAELI RELATIONSHIP
In fact, US support for Israelâ€™s security needs has never been unconditional, even during administrations which were far friendlier to Israel than Obamaâ€™s has been. For example, in 2008, the Bush administration refused to supply Israel with â€œbunker bombsâ€ and other military equipment it requested to enhance its capacity to conduct a successful air raid on Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities. Similarly, the US continues to refuse to sell Israel the F-22 high performance jet fighter, and delayed the approval of the initial Israeli request to buy the F-35 for more than two years.
The US still considers Israel to be one of its closest allies, and the two share many military secrets and common interests. However, the level of strategic cooperation between the two has had its ups and downs.
POLLARDâ€™S RELEASE REPORTEDLY BEING CONSIDERED
According to reports in the Israeli media, one of the good will gestures that Netanyahu requested in return for the freeze is the release of Jonathan Pollard. He is the American Jew who worked as a civilian naval intelligence expert who was arrested 25 years ago for giving Israel highly classified US defense data.
Despite his agreement to a plea bargain, Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment for giving US secrets to a friendly country, an offense which normally carries a sentence of no more than 10 years in prison. The harsh sentence was the result of a secret request by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to the judge in the case. Weinberger accused Pollard of betraying America’s “sources and methods,” to hostile foreign countries, and later publicly said that Pollard was the worst spy in American history.
In addition to that violation of Pollardâ€™s rights to due process, subsequent evidence has come to light that the leak for which Pollard was blamed actually came from Soviet mole Aldrich Ames. He is a high ranking CIA official whose disclosures to the Soviets led to the death of at least eleven US agents and for which Pollard was wrongly blamed. Even though Ames was exposed as a Soviet spy in 1994, the US intelligence community has continued to fight every effort to secure Pollardâ€™s release from prison.
Nobody suggests that Pollard is innocent of giving secret US information to Israel. Pollard admits to that. But he is innocent of the far more serious offense that Weinberger accused him of, betraying US agents to an enemy power resulting in their deaths.
NETANYAHUâ€™S FIRST ATTEMPT TO FREE POLLARD
In 1998, at the Wye Peace Conference, Netanyahu, during his first term as prime minister, secured the agreement of then-President Bill Clinton to Pollardâ€™s release in exchange for the release of a notorious Palestinian terrorist from an Israeli prison. At the last minute, then-CIA Director George Tenet personally intervened with Clinton and demanded that Pollard be kept in jail. Clinton passed along the demand to Netanyahu, and insisted that the Palestinian terrorist be allowed to go free even while Pollard was left to languish in jail. When Netanyahu reacted by threatening to walk out of the conference in protest, Clinton responded by threatening an open rupture in US-Israeli relations. Netanyahu gave in. The terrorist went free while Pollard continued to be confined under harsh conditions in a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
Since then, numerous appeals for clemency for Pollard or a presidential commutation of his life sentence, on the basis of both legal and humanitarian concerns, have all been denied.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu was publicly criticized for refusing to personally deliver a letter from 109 members of the Knesset to Vice President Joe Biden during their meeting in New Orleans. The letter asked President Obama to grant Pollard clemency. But it now appears that Pollardâ€™s release was already on the list of benefits that Netanyahu has been asking from the US government in return for reinstating the settlement freeze. Reportedly, Netanyahu has argued that the release of Pollard would make it easier for him to secure the agreement of right-wing members of his coalition to the 3-month freeze, and US officials are seriously considering the request.
NEW CALLS FOR POLLARDâ€™S RELEASE
In recent weeks, some of the US and Israeli officials who were originally involved in Pollardâ€™s case have endorsed new appeals for his release. These include Pollardâ€™s former Mossad handler, Rafi Eitan, and Lawrence Korb, who was an aide to Weinberger at the time of Pollardâ€™s arrest.
Israeli Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein was an attachÃ© at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on the day that Pollard was arrested while seeking entry at the embassyâ€™s gates 25 years ago. In a speech he made on November 15, Rubinstein said, â€œMany mistakes have been made. But there is no way to go back and undo the past. The time has come, for both moral and humane reasons, to free Jonathan Pollard.â€
Three days later, on November 18, a letter to President Obama signed by 39 Democrat members of Congress calling for clemency for Pollard was released at a Washington press conference.
The letter noted the â€œgreat disparityâ€ in the severity of Pollardâ€™s sentence, and asked that after 25 years in prison, that he be released as â€œan act of compassion.â€ It stated that his release now would â€œnot in any way imply doubt about his guilt, nor cast any aspersions on the process by which he was convicted.â€
One of the signers, Congressman Steven Rothman, stated that, â€œthe fact that Mr. Pollardâ€™s sentence has been unduly harsh compared to sentences of other individuals convicted of similar crimes is wrong.â€ He added that the 25 years that Pollard has already served in prison, â€œhas fully met the needs of punishment and deterrence.â€
NATO EXPECTS TO PLAY A ROLE
NATO is also paying close attention to the efforts to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going again. NATOâ€™s secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said during the NATO summit in Lisbon last week that NATO expects to play an integral role in monitoring and implementing any Middle East peace agreement that may emerge.
At the Lisbon summit, the heads of government of NATO’s 28 members states signed a document outlining a new strategic doctrine for the alliance based upon the recommendations of a committee of experts led by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. However, the document omitted the panel’s recommendations relating to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Also, at the insistence of Turkey, the new NATO strategy contained no explicit reference to the growing threat from Iran, which is the primary reason why plans are now being made to deploy a new missile defense system across Europe.
Reportedly, at the Lisbon summit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy raged against the “verbal contortions” in the new NATO strategy statement regarding the missile-defense system. “We all know we’re talking about Iran,” Sarkozy said.
One positive result of the new NATO doctrine will likely be closer relations with between the alliance and Israel. The North Atlantic Council, NATO’s senior governing body, announced that it would launch bilateral relations with Israel and six Arab states that already participate in what NATO calls the Mediterranean Dialogue.