Biden to AIPAC: Israel Must Support Palestinian State; U.N. Demands Access to Israel’s ‘Secret Torture’ Jails
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden pressed Israel on Tuesday to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an address to the leading pro-Israel lobby during its annual conference in Washington.
“Israel has to work for a two state-solution. You’re not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement … and access to economic opportunity,” Biden told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Biden also said the Palestinian Authority “must combat terror and incitement against Israel.” >>>
A US court has formally dropped espionage charges against two pro-Israeli lobbyists amid a scandal that had threatened to expose the extent of Israeli grip on US politics.
US District Judge T. S. Ellis on Monday dismissed all charges against former AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, three days after Justice Department prosecutors announced that handling the case would require the release of top secret military intelligence and should therefore be shelved.
Rosen and Weissman were indicted in 2005 for conspiring to obtain and leak classified information regarding Iran to the Israeli government and journalists from The Washington Post and other media outlets.
Pentagon expert Larry Franklin — who pled guilty to passing restricted military intelligence to the two indicted lobbyists — was sentenced in April to 12 years and seven months in prison.
AIPAC, billed as the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, has strived to distance itself from the spy case to escape further controversy for the sake of its reputation.
The controversy, however, was further fueled by revelations of the involvement of California representative Jane Harman — a longtime member of the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence who has access to highly classified security information.
Harman was reportedly overheard on a wiretapped phone conversation while agreeing to act on behalf of a suspected Israeli agent and persuade the Justice Department into reducing espionage charges against Rosen and Weissman.
The Israeli agent, in return, promised to smooth the way for Harman to become the next chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
According to a Congressional Quarterly report released on April 19, the FBI was poised to question Harman about the telephone call and her interactions with the suspected Israeli agent but US Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez blocked efforts to launch an investigation.
Harman, who has denied any wrongdoing, has taken the matter up with AIPAC policymakers and has tried to turn the tables by accusing the US government of illegally recording her conversation — a move that has shifted media attention away from AIPAC involvement in the spy case, also named the Lawrence Franklin affair.
In an address to the 2009 AIPAC policy conference on Monday, she chose to focus on the wiretapping rather than her bargaining deals with the suspected Israeli spy and called herself “a warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power.”
She went on to promise the heavyweight American politicians who had come to swear allegiance to Israel that she would “not quit on this, until I am absolutely sure that this never can happen to anyone else”.
Baruch Weiss, the lawyer who helped cripple the US government’s case against Rosen and Weissman, says the prosecution’s loss is a “great victory” for Israel’s friends.
This is not the first time pro-Israeli lobbyists charged with espionage escape trial in the US.
Stephen D. Bryen, a pro-Israel activist who played a key role in forging close ties between Israel and the Pentagon, was seen passing confidential documents to an Israeli Mossad agent in a restaurant in Washington.
Michael Saba, former executive director of the influential National Association of Arab Americans, who was witness to the security breach, promptly reported the incident to the Justice Department.
“After I reported this incident to the Justice Department, FBI and Justice Department investigators gathered sufficient evidence on Dr. Bryen’s activities to recommend he be brought before an investigative grand jury for espionage,” Saba explained in Armageddon Network
“The case was quietly closed, however, by Philip Heymann, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, a close personal friend and associate of Dr. Bryen’s attorney. Bryen was never formally charged or made to account for his actions under oath,” he added.
The US vice-president also said the US would never abandon its commitment to Israel’s security, calling it “non-negotiable”.
And he said the Palestinian Authority “must combat terror and incitement against Israel”.
Biden’s remarks went further than those made by Obama in a White House meeting last month with Jordan’s King Abdullah, in which he repeated his support for a two-state solution.
His comments also came hours ahead of a meeting between Barack Obama, the US president, and Shimon Peres, Obama’s counterpart.
In a speech by video-link to Aipac on Monday, Netanyahu said he was ready to begin Israeli-Palestinian peace talks immediately, but made no reference to a Palestinian state.
Israel’s prime minister claims to have a peace-seeking agenda but fails to elaborate on how Tel Aviv would assist the oppressed natives of the land.
In the face of world pressure over its policies against the native population of the land, Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday suggested that Israel may once again participate in peace talks with the Palestinians.
“We are prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay and without any preconditions — the sooner the better,” Netanyahu told a conference of heavyweight lawmakers and pro-Zionist lobbyists in the United States.
He said Tel Aviv would pursue a new approach that entails “a triple track towards peace between Israel and Palestinians, a political track, a security track and economic track.”
The prime minister also talked of a desire to normalize ties between Israel and the Arab world.
“Next week I’ll be visiting Egypt with President Mubarak and I plan to discuss both matters with him — cooperation between the Arab world and cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.”
The largely right-wing cabinet of Israel’s hawkish prime minister has halted previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over setting up an independent Palestinian state, calling previous US-backed agreements into question.
Netanyahu made the remarks ahead of a meeting between Israeli President Shimon Peres and US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday. Peres will reportedly try to “soften” Obama and prepare the ground for Netanyahu’s US visit in mid-May.
Despite the new Israeli government’s opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state, Barack Obama has expressed strong support for the two-state solution, describing it as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman sparked controversy by saying that Tel Aviv was not bound by the 2007 US-backed Annapolis deal, under which Israel agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He said the peace process was at a “dead end”.
Following the comments by Lieberman, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni –Israel’s top negotiator in peace talks with Palestinians — said that her successor’s position on the 2007 Annapolis deal “showed the world that we are not a partner [for peace].”
The political leader of Palestinian group Hamas says that the movement is seeking a Palestinian state only in the areas Israel occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War.
“We are with a state on the 1967 borders, based on a long-term truce. This includes East Jerusalem, the dismantling of settlements and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees,” Khaled Meshaal said in an interview with the New York Times.
He insisted that the movement seeks a solution to the crisis in the Palestinian lands.
Iterating that Hamas will not recognize Israel, Meshaal questioned whether such recognition would end occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“It’s just a pretext by the United States and Israel to escape dealing with the real issue and to throw the ball into the Arab and Palestinian court,” said Meshaal.
The leader of the Hamas political bureau, meanwhile, stressed that the movement welcomes a deal that could secure the return of many Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Hamas leader also branded the language of US President, Barack Obama, toward the movement as “positive and different.”
He, however, voiced discontent over remarks made by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, saying “her language reflects the old administration policies”.
Russia has invited UN Security Council ministers to a meeting to discuss the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new push for Middle East peace.
Foreign ministers from members of the 15-member Security Council, as well as UN chief Ban Ki-moon, have been asked to take part in the one-day meeting to be held May 11 at the UN headquarters in New York.
“The main objective of the meeting is to give — through the United Nations — a new impetus to the Middle East peace process,” Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters Monday.
For the month of April, Russia holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will chair the ministerial meeting aimed at “reaffirming the Council’s involvement in the search for a Middle East settlement”.
Churkin said neither Israel, the Palestinian Authority nor any Arab state would be invited to address the Council and that there were no plans to hold a meeting of the Middle East Quartet at the same time.
Russia — a member of international Quartet on the Middle East peace process — has repeatedly called on Israel to commit to a two-state solution which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state that would live side by side with Israel in peace.
The Quartet has also urged Israel to halt its settlement activities on Palestinian land, branding the Israeli move as an ‘obstacle’ to the peace talks.
So far, the new Israeli government under hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who opposes Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — has refused to support the principle of a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to expand illegal Jewish West Bank settlements.
The United Nations anti-torture committee has demanded access to an Israeli secret prison where torture is allegedly being practiced.
The UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva prepared a document on Israel’s record on torture on Tuesday and called on Tel Aviv to release information on the alleged “Facility 1391” which is situated in an “undetermined location within Israel and which is not accessible to the International Committee of the Red Cross or detainees’ lawyers or relatives.”
“Allegations of torture, ill-treatment and poor detention conditions in this facility have been reported to the committee,” read the document.
The committee said it had received reports according to which “Palestinian detainees are subjected by Israeli security officials to acts in violation” of the anti-torture convention, including beatings, sleep deprivations and sharp twisting of the head.
The committee is scheduled to publish a report on Tuesday’s hearing on May 15.
According to reports, Palestinian detainees were kept in solitary confinement in cells that ranged from 3 to 6 square meters with no windows or access to daylight or fresh air.
Several reports from at least eight NGOs, including B’Tselem, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have been received this year by the committee over Israeli violations of the UN Convention Against Torture.
Some 600 complaints of alleged ill-treatment or torture were brought between 2001 and 2006, but none had been followed up, he said, citing information from activists and media.
Felice Gaer, an American expert on the committee, asked why interrogations by the Israel Security Agency were not recorded either on audiotapes or on video. She suggested that a reason complaints were decreasing was that there had not been a single criminal investigation into any such cases.
Other committee members raised the alleged existence of the secret detention and interrogation facility and cited a ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court which had upheld that no investigations could be conducted against activities there.
The committee, which last scrutinized Israel’s record in November 2001, cited “numerous allegations” at the time that Israeli police and security officials tortured or mistreated Palestinian detainees, and urged it to prevent abuses. >>>
Tehran and Damascus are united behind Palestinian resistance to Israel, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said after meeting with his Syrian counterpart and top Arab ally on Tuesday.
Sitting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad at a press conference, Ahmadinejad also said that relations between the two countries were “deepening and developing on various levels… There are no obstacles before their development.”
“Syria and Iran have been from the very beginning united and in agreement to stand on the side of the Palestinian resistance,” Ahmadinejad said. “They will continue to do so. We see that the resistance will continue until all occupied territories are liberated.” >>>