Tag Archives: WikiLeaks

The Bush-Obama line on Palestine: forget ’67

The election of President Barack Obama brought great hope that his administration could be the one to bring about a settlement to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  But Obama has largely followed the Bush administration’s pro-Israel slant.  New documents released by WikiLeaks and Al Jazeera shed further light on the continuation of the Bush administration’s disastrous policy on Israel/Palestine.

As part of its ongoing release of secret State Department cables, WikiLeaks yesterday released documents concerning Brazil.  One 2005 document, written from the U.S. embassy in Brazil, centers on a first-time gathering in Brazil between Arab and South American leaders.  The U.S. was worried about language concerning Israel/Palestine in the final document that came out of the summit:

Despite repeated Brazilian promises over many months that the Summit Declaration would not contain language inimical to Middle East peace efforts, the final text contains problematic paragraphs that existed in earlier declaration drafts. In addition to the demand that Israel withdraw to its June 4, 1967 frontiers, the declaration also calls on Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice July 2004 decision on dismantling the security wall.

The reference to the 1967 borders and the International Court of Justice decision as “problematic” is unsurprising, given that the Bush administration showed the utmost contempt for international law.  This cable further confirms the Bush administration’s double-dealings when it came to the borders of a future Palestinian state:  while the Bush administration backed the 2003 Road Map that called for a halt to Israeli settlement building, a secret letter to the Israeli government contradicts that plan:

In a key sentence in Bush’s 2004 letter, the president stated, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

Contempt for international law, and support for Israel’s insistence that negotiations not be based on the 1967 borders, has continued into the Obama administration.  Despite President Obama’s pledge in 2009 to push for a “viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967,” documents published by Al Jazeera as part of the “Palestine Papers” tell a different story.  Ali Abunimah, writing in Al Jazeera, analyzes:

The next day [after Obama’s 2009 UN speech] during a meeting at the US Mission to the United Nations in New York, Erekat refused an American request to adopt Obama’s speech as the terms of reference for negotiations. Erekat asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale why the Obama administration would not explicitly state that the intended outcome of negotiations would be a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with a third party security role and a staged Israeli withdrawal. Hale responded, “You ask why? How would it help you if we state something so specific and then not be able to deliver?” according to Palestinian minutes of the meeting.

At the same meeting, which Mitchell himself later joined, Erekat challenged the US envoy on how Obama could publicly endorse Israel as a “Jewish state” but not commit to the 1967 borders. Mitchell, according to the minutes, told Erekat “You can’t negotiate detailed ToRs [terms of reference for the negotiations]” so the Palestinians might as well be “positive” and proceed directly to negotiations. Erekat viewed Mitchell’s position as a US abandonment of the Road Map.

On 2 October 2009 Mitchell met with Erekat at the State Department and again attempted to persuade the Palestinian team to return to negotiations. Despite Erekat’s entreaties that the US should stand by its earlier positions, Mitchell responded, “If you think Obama will force the option you’ve described, you are seriously misreading him. I am begging you to take this opportunity.”

Erekat replied, according to the minutes, “All I ask is to say two states on 67 border with agreed modifications. This protects me against Israeli greed and land grab – it allows Israel to keep some realities on the ground” (a reference to Palestinian willingness to allow Israel to annex some West Bank settlements as part of minor land swaps). Erekat argued that this position had been explicitly endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice under the Bush administration.

“Again I tell you that President Obama does not accept prior decisions by Bush. Don’t use this because it can hurt you. Countries are bound by agreements – not discussions or statements,” Mitchell reportedly said.

The US envoy was firm that if the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not agree to language in the terms of reference the US would not try to force it. Yet Mitchell continued to pressure the Palestinian side to adopt formulas the Palestinians feared would give Israel leeway to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank without providing any compensation.

At a critical 21 October 2009 meeting, Mitchell read out proposed language for terms of reference:

“The US believes that through good faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that achieves both the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state encompassing all the territory occupied in 1967 or its equivalent in value, and the Israeli goal of secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meets Israeli security requirements.”

Erekat’s response was blunt: “So no Road Map?” The implication of the words “or equivalent in value” is that the US would only commit to Palestinians receiving a specific amount of territory — 6258 square kilometers, or the equivalent area of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — but not to any specific borders.

‘The Palestine Cables’: Al Jazeera is viewed in White House for Egypt coverage, but U.S. complained about its 08-09 Gaza coverage

This is the sixth installment of my column on WikiLeaks and Israel/Palestine at Mondoweiss.  You can read all the installments here.

The Al Jazeera news network is not well liked by many governments.  It has the bravest, most consistent and unyielding reports from the front lines of Middle East turmoil, as the uprising in Egypt has shown.  Al Jazeera journalists have been among the victims of the Mubarak regime’s brutal crackdown on the media today in Egypt, events that the U.S. State Department have expressed concern about.

Despite the fact that the Obama administration has been watching Al Jazeera to get the latest out of Egypt, the U.S. has a tortured history with Al Jazeera, as Jeremy Scahill of the Nation points out:  bombing its offices in Afghanistan, shelling a hotel in Iraq and killing the network’s Iraq correspondent and holding a network employee in Guantanamo Bay for seven years.  Recent WikiLeaks cables obtained by Counterpunch add more to the U.S.-Al Jazeera story.

According to a January 31 story authored by Kathleen Christison, the U.S. government, in the wake of the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, held a meeting with Al Jazeera to complain about its coverage of the assault:

CounterPunch can show, through a Wikileaks-released cable from the U.S. embassy in Doha, Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, that U.S. officials were still ragging the network in February 2009 in the wake of Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza, because, alone of news networks the world over, al-Jazeera had actually shown what was happening on the ground to Gazan civilians besieged by an unrelenting Israeli air, artillery, and ground attack…

According to the cable from Doha, on February 10, 2009, three weeks after the Gaza assault ended, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Lebaron arranged a meeting with al-Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, to express concern that the network’s reporting from Gaza was harming the U.S. image “in the Arab street.” Lebaron’s contorted reasoning went as follows: al-Jazeera’s coverage “took viewers’ emotions and then raised them to a higher level through its coverage…”

Lebaron simply did not like the fact that al-Jazeera had shown what was happening in Gaza. With jaw-dropping illogic, he complained that al-Jazeera provided no balance in its reporting because on one side it showed Israeli talking heads, while “on the other side of the scale, you are broadcasting graphic images of dead children and urban damage from modern warfare.”

Close U.S. ally and new Egyptian VP Soliman ‘keeps the domestic beasts at bay’

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has appointed Omar Soliman, the country’s head of intelligence, as vice president in Mubarak’s first big move following continuous days of protest that are threatening to end his regime.  But Soliman’s appointment will not placate the Egyptian demonstrators–Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddos, who is on the ground in Egypt, reports that Egyptians have begun “chanting against Omar Suleiman.”

Cables written by U.S. diplomats released by WikiLeaks over the past two months point to why Soliman’s appointment is looked at with disdain by Egyptians: he is extremely close to President Mubarak and the United States.  Furthermore, Soliman is closely linked with the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program, in which the CIA abducted suspected terror suspects and sent them to U.S. allies to be tortured, as well as a key player in Egyptian policy towards the Palestinians, according to various WikiLeaks cables.

A dispatch written in 2006 from the U.S. embassy in Cairo reports that Soliman “wields enormous influence over national security policy and is known to have the full confidence of Mubarak.”  A 2007 cable titled “Presidential Succession in Egypt” similarly notes that Soliman’s “loyalty to Mubarak seems rock solid,” and raises Soliman as a potential successor to Mubarak.

U.S. officials see Soliman as an indispensable ally in the region, and hold meetings with him regularly.  Cables released by WikiLeaks show that Soliman met with Admiral Michael Mullen in April 2009; Congressional delegations in January 2008 and May 2008; and with General David Petraeus in July 2009.

Tellingly, a May 2009 cable classified by the U.S. ambassador to Egypt says that “EGIS Chief Omar Soliman and Interior Minister al-Adly keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics.”  These tactics, as outlined in various reports written by human rights organizations, include arbitrary detention, torture a clampdown on political dissidence.

Jane Mayer’s award-winning book The Dark Side details Egypt and Soliman’s cooperation with the U.S. “rendition” and torture program, which began in 1995:

The United States offered its rich resources to track, capture and transport terrorist suspects globally–including access to a small fleet of aircraft.  Egypt embraced the idea immediately.  “What was clever was that some of the senior people in Al Qaeda were Egyptian,” [Michael Scheur, former head of the CIA’s “Bin Laden Unit”] said.  “It served American purposes to get these people arrested, and Egyptian purposes to get these people back, where they could be interrogated.”  Technically, U.S. law required the CIA to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t be tortured.  But even during the Clinton Administration, this obligation appears to have been little more than a sham…

Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments….The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way.”

The Egyptian intifada and what it may mean for Israel/Palestine

The Egyptian uprising against the Mubarak regime is historic and important in its own right.  But it may also lead to significant changes in the region that could be positive for the Palestinian cause.  Israel is worried about a reliable ally being toppled next door.

The Mubarak dictatorship is a core pillar of the U.S./Israeli order in the Middle East, an order that completely ignores the wishes and aspirations of people on the ground.  The U.S. and Israel are scared of the new order that is to come.

As As’ad Abu Khalil notes at his blog, “the Israeli strategy in the Middle East has been firmly set on the continuity of the Sadat-Mubarak dictatorship.”  Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 removed a military threat to Israel and secured millions of U.S. dollars and military support for the Egyptian dictatorship.  The Mubarak regime got carte blanche for its repressive rule.

Currently, there is extensive cooperation between Egypt and Israel.  Cables obtained by WikiLeaks, and published by Counterpunch, reveal that the Israeli military coordinated bombing runs with the Egyptian military during the 2008-09 assault on Gaza and closed the Rafah border when told in advance that Israel’s ground invasion was to begin.  WikiLeaks’ documents shed further light on Egypt currently building a wall meant to choke off smuggling tunnels into the Gaza Strip.

The fall of the Mubarak regime, which is what the youth revolt currently sweeping Egypt is calling for, could mean a number of things related to the siege of Gaza, continued efforts to crush Hamas and the political situation Israel finds itself in.

All told, what happens in Egypt will not stay in Egypt.  It will have ripple effects across the Middle East, and especially in Israel/Palestine.


‘The Palestine Cables’: WikiLeaks exposes Egypt, PA cooperation with Israel during Gaza assault

This is the fifth installment of my column on WikiLeaks and Israel/Palestine at Mondoweiss.  You can read all the installments here.

The left-wing publication Counterpunch has obtained eleven U.S.-authored cables “accessed” from WikiLeaks that deal solely with “Operation Cast Lead,” the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza.  Kathleen Christison, a former CIA analyst and co-author of Palestine in Pieces, has the scoop:

Though the cables often simply rehash Israeli press reporting, providing little new insight into Israel’s attack or the planning behind it, they show with pitiless clarity the U.S. government to be little more than a handmaiden and amanuensis of the Israeli military machine.

The State Department cables also reveal for the first time that while Israel waged a devastating assault on the Gaza Strip, eventually killing an estimated 1,400 Palestinians, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were actively working with Israel.  Previous cables from WikiLeaks revealed that Israel had “consulted” with Egypt and the PA prior to the beginning of “Cast Lead.”  The PA denied the allegations then.

A December 29, 2008 cable from the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv reports (in bold on the Counterpunch page on the leaks):

At 16:00 on December 28, the IDF bombed the Phiadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, destroying 39-40 smuggling tunnels. No Egyptian border guards were harmed. IDF contacts have repeatedly told DATT that the targeting of the tunnels was coordinated with Egypt, and that they had passed the coordinates of the attack points to the Egyptians to enable them to ensure the safety of their border forces.

A January 4, 2009 cable from Cairo notes:

As of 1500 hrs. local on January 4, Egyptian military contacts said Egypt closed the Rafah border crossing on January 4 after the Israelis gave advanced warning of their ground invasion and additional air strikes on the smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Rafah border

One December 30, 2008 cable from Jerusalem details the contacts made between the PA and Israel regarding protests against the assault in the West Bank:

PA commanders complained about IDF use of live ammunition, responsible for three Palestinian fatalities in December 27-28 protests. MG [Thiab Mustafa] Ali [the commander of the Palestinian security forces] said IDF commanders told them live ammunition is the last resort when dealing with Palestinian demonstrators, and IDF rules of engagement only authorize it when the lives of IDF soldiers or Israeli citizens are at immediate risk

Despite the “complaints,” the next section of the Dec. 30 cable notes that “both sides” agreed to “increase coordination”:

PA commanders said they told IDF officers that President Abbas and PM Fayyad both directed them to avoid situations that could develop into confrontations with the IDF. The security chiefs said Abbas and Fayyad passed a message to all Palestinian factions, at a PLO Executive Committee meeting on December 29, that only peaceful marches away from flashpoints would be permitted. PA commanders noted they have no control on over B/C areas such as Qalandiya and Nil’in, and would need IDF approval to move PA forces to those areas to prevent clashes between protesters and the IDF…

PA commanders said their IDF counterparts agreed to expedite coordination and movement requests and exchange information on possible disturbances, as both sides have an interest in preventing West Bank violence. They said both sides also agreed not to leak substantive discussions about the meeting to the press, given the sensitivity of security coordination in a time of Palestinian outrage over events in Gaza.

The new leak of what Al Jazeera is calling the “Palestine Papers” are likely to confirm the WikiLeaks revelations by publishing “details of the PA’s security cooperation with Israel” over the next few days.

WikiLeaks Shows Israel Lied about Settlement Incentives

A State Department cable from a June 2009 meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implies that the State of Israel no longer provides incentives for illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.  But the recently passed budget for 2011-2012 shows that the Israeli government’s funding for their illegal settlement enterprise is humming along.

According to a cable published by WikiLeaks:

In response to a question about GOI incentives to settlers, Netanyahu’s adviser Ron Dermer said the Olmert government had already removed them. Netanyahu said this was an issue that Israel could discuss further with the U.S.

But last Wednesday, the Israeli Knesset passed a budget with a load of incentives for settlers:

The 2011-2012 budget, approved on Wednesday by the Knesset, allocates NIS 2 billion to settlements, their services and security, and hundreds of millions of shekels more hidden among the different clauses of the bill.


Most of the settlements have been defined as areas of first national priority, in which the Israel Land Administration subsidizes 69 percent of the cost of land, or second national priority areas, in which the subsidy reaches 49 percent of the price of the land.

The purchasers of flats in a national priority area can receive a subsidized loan up to NIS 97,000, whether the flats are located in a priority area within Israel or in the West Bank. The housing assistance budget comes up to NIS 87,368 million in 2011, and NIS 86,518 million in 2012.



The Hypocrisy of Fran Townsend

Fran Townsend, a former Bush administration advisor and now a CNN contributor

In the midst of the now-famous debate on CNN between Glenn Greenwald and Fran Townsend on WikiLeaks, Townsend claimed:

[The release of the State Department cables] was so vast, of what was public, whether or not it would be useful or no he made no distinctions about the harm he might be doing to foreign governments, to the U.S. government, to diplomats and soldiers around the world.

While Townsend is implying that WikiLeaks’ has caused harm to “diplomats and soldiers”–a claim that has no merit–she is at the same time an outspoken supporter of a designated terrorist group:  the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK).

Last week, according to Talking Points Memo (and pointed out by Mondoweiss):

A group of prominent Bush-era Republicans, including former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former White House adviser Frances Townsend and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, flew to Paris to speak in support of an Iranian exile group there — one that’s been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.

TPM explains the history of MEK:

The group, known as Mujaheddin-e Khalq or MEK, is a militant group that’s been violently fighting the Iranian government since the 1960s. It has ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein, which trained and outfitted the MEK and for whom the MEK fought in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. According to the State Department, which declared the group a terrorist organization in 1997, the group’s philosophy is a combination of “Marxism, Islam, and feminism.

WikiLeaks does not have “blood on its hands,” as Townsend implied.  The MEK, on the other hand, does, according to the U.S. State Department–and has also caused harm to the very same U.S. “government, diplomats and soldiers” Townsend ostensibly looks out for:

During the 1970s, the MEK assassinated several U.S. military personnel and U.S. civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the violent takeover in 1979 of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Despite U.S. efforts, MEK members have never been brought to justice for the group’s role in these illegal acts.

In 1981, MEK leadership attempted to overthrow the newly installed Islamic regime; Iranian security forces subsequently initiated a crackdown on the group. The MEK instigated a bombing campaign, including an attack against the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Prime Minister’s office, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Prime Minister Mohammad-Javad Bahonar..

The MEK’s relationship with the former Iraqi regime continued through the 1990s. In 1991, the group reportedly assisted in the Iraqi Republican Guard’s bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein’s regime; press reports cite MEK leader Maryam Rajavi encouraging MEK members to “take the Kurds under your tanks.”