Wednesday, December 8
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, December 8, plus EIGHT bonus stories on Wikileaks and a bonus pictorial on Haiti, are:
Arrest, no bail, possible extradition to US for Assange as spy
Assange could face espionage trial in US
Informal discussions have already taken place between US and Swedish officials over the possibility of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange being delivered into American custody, according to diplomatic sources.
Mr Assange is in a British jail awaiting extradition proceedings to Sweden after being refused bail at Westminster Magistrates’ Court despite a number of prominent public figures offering to stand as surety.
His arrest in north London yesterday was described by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates as “good news”, and may pave the way for extradition to America and a possible lengthy jail sentence …
Sources stressed that no extradition request would be submitted until and unless the US government laid charges against Mr Assange, and that attempts to take him to America would only take place after legal proceedings are concluded in Sweden.
Mr Assange, 39, had voluntarily gone to a police station accompanied by solicitors after the issuing of an international warrant.
The court heard that Jemima Khan, the sister of the Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, the film director Ken Loach and journalist John Pilger were among those who had offered to stand bail to the sum of £180,000. But District Judge Howard Rule remanded him in custody on the grounds that there was a risk the WikiLeaks founder would fail to surrender.
Mr Loach, who offered £20,000, explained that he did not know Mr Assange other than by reputation, but he said: “I think the work he has done has been a public service. I think we are entitled to know the dealings of those that govern us.” Mr Pilger, who also offered £20,000, said he knew Mr Assange as a journalist and personal friend and had a “very high regard for him”.
“I am aware of the offences and I am also aware of quite a lot of the detail around the offences,” said Mr Pilger. “I am here today because the charges against him in Sweden are absurd and were judged as absurd by the chief prosecutor there when she threw the whole thing out until a senior political figure intervened.” Ms Khan offered a further £20,000 “or more if need be”, although she said she did not know Assange.
Gemma Lindfield, appearing for the Swedish authorities, successfully opposed bail being granted because there was a risk he would fail to surrender – and also for his own protection, she said. She outlined five reasons why there was a risk: his “nomadic” lifestyle, reports that he intended to seek asylum in Switzerland, access to money from donors, his network of international contacts and his Australian nationality ,,,
The pressure on WikiLeaks, which relies on online donations from a worldwide network of supporters to fund its work, continued after Visa and Mastercard suspended all payments to the website.
A spokesman for Visa E said: “Visa Europe has taken action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks’ website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules.” A MasterCard spokesman said: “MasterCard is currently in the process of working to suspend the acceptance of MasterCard cards on WikiLeaks until the situation is resolved.”
Kristinn Hrafnsson, a WikiLeaks spokesperson, said: “WikiLeaks is operational. We are continuing on the same track as laid out before. Any development with regards to Julian Assange will not change the plans we have with regards to the releases today and in the coming days.”
- Past This is Hell! guest Noam Chomsky is opposed to Julian Assange getting his ass kicked, or so Agence France Presse reports in, “Chomsky signs Australian letter of support for Assange“:
Renowned American scholar and activist Noam Chomsky signed an open letter to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday urging her to make a “strong statement” in support of Julian Assange.
Chomsky, a professor of linguistics at the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent critic of US foreign policy, joined scores of high-profile Australian lawyers, authors and journalists in signing the letter.
Noting the “increasingly violent rhetoric” directed towards Australian-born Assange, the besieged founder of whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, the signatories said there were “grave concerns” for his safety.
“We therefore call upon you to condemn, on behalf of the Australian Government, calls for physical harm to be inflicted upon Mr Assange, and to state publicly that you will ensure Mr Assange receives the rights and protections to which he is entitled, irrespective of whether the unlawful threats against him come from individuals or states,” says the letter, published on the ABC website.
Penned by Victoria University academic Jeff Sparrow and human rights lawyer Lizzie O’Shea, the letter calls on Gillard to publicly confirm Australia’s commitment to free political communication and uphold Assange’s basic rights.
It also urges her to “provide assistance and advocacy to Mr Assange; and do everything in your power to ensure that any legal proceedings taken against him comply fully with the principles of law and procedural fairness.”
“A statement by you to this effect should not be controversial — it is a simple commitment to democratic principles and the rule of law,” it says.
- Hacktivists launched Operation Payback in response to Assange’s arrest, so reports The Associated Press in, “Hackers strike at MasterCard to support WikiLeaks“:
Hackers rushed to the defense of WikiLeaks on Wednesday, launching attacks on MasterCard, Visa, Swedish prosecutors, a Swiss bank and others who have acted against the site and its jailed founder Julian Assange.
Internet “hacktivists” operating under the label “Operation Payback” claimed responsibility in a Twitter message for causing severe technological problems at the website for MasterCard, which pulled the plug on its relationship with WikiLeaks a day ago.
MasterCard acknowledged “a service disruption” involving its Secure Code system for verifying online payments, but spokesman James Issokson said consumers could still use their credit cards for secure transactions. Later Wednesday, Visa’s website was inaccessible.
The online attacks are part of a wave of support for WikiLeaks that is sweeping the Internet. Twitter was choked with messages of solidarity for the group, while the site’s Facebook page hit 1 million fans.
Late Wednesday, Operation Payback itself appeared to run into problems, as many of its sites went down. It was unclear who was behind the counterattack.
- The New York Times gives us more on Anonymous and the cyberattacks in, “Hackers Attack Companies That Hindered WikiLeaks “:
Targets included Mastercard.com, which had stopped processing donations for WikiLeaks; Amazon.com, which revoked server space from the group; the online payment service PayPal, which cut off its commercial cooperation, and the lawyer representing the two Swedish women who have accused Mr. Assange in the sex case.
By Wednesday afternoon, a counterattack had begun with Netcraft, a British Internet monitoring firm, reporting that the Web site being used by the hackers to distribute denial-of-service software had been suspended by a Dutch hosting firm, Leaseweb.
The hackers — a loosely affiliated group who call themselves Anonymous — were continuing to give instructions for the denial of service attacks via a Twitter account.
Anonymous had vowed to take revenge on any organization that lined up against WikiLeaks. The group claimed responsibility for at least the Mastercard attack, and, according to one activist associated with the group, was conducting multiple other attacks.
- The Guardian story, “Operation Payback cripples MasterCard site in revenge for WikiLeaks ban,” reports on US pressure against those who are assisting Wikileaks:
Earlier, PayPal, which has also been the subject of technological attack since it suspended payments to WikiLeaks last week, appeared to admit that it had taken the step after an intervention from the US state department.
PayPal’s vice-president of platform, Osama Bedier, told an internet conference the site had decided to freeze WikiLeaks’ account on 4 December after government representatives said it was engaged in illegal activity.
“[The US] state department told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward,” he told the LeWeb conference in Paris, adding: “We … comply with regulations around the world, making sure that we protect our brand.”
Though he later reined back the comments, saying that PayPal had not been contacted directly by the state department but had seen a letter it had sent to WikiLeaks, his remarks will undoubtedly intensify criticism from supporters of WikiLeaks that the site is being targeted for political reasons.
- Assange’s editorial, “Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths,” in The Australian argues for Wikileaks’ importance and freedom, not his own:
In 1958 a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide’s The News, wrote: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.”
His observation perhaps reflected his father Keith Murdoch’s expose that Australian troops were being needlessly sacrificed by incompetent British commanders on the shores of Gallipoli. The British tried to shut him up but Keith Murdoch would not be silenced and his efforts led to the termination of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign …
Nearly a century later, WikiLeaks is also fearlessly publishing facts that need to be made public …
Every time WikiLeaks publishes the truth about abuses committed by US agencies, Australian politicians chant a provably false chorus with the State Department: “You’ll risk lives! National security! You’ll endanger troops!” Then they say there is nothing of importance in what WikiLeaks publishes. It can’t be both. Which is it?
It is neither. WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time we have changed whole governments, but not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed. But the US, with Australian government connivance, has killed thousands in the past few months alone.
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates admitted in a letter to the US congress that no sensitive intelligence sources or methods had been compromised by the Afghan war logs disclosure. The Pentagon stated there was no evidence the WikiLeaks reports had led to anyone being harmed in Afghanistan. NATO in Kabul told CNN it couldn’t find a single person who needed protecting. The Australian Department of Defence said the same. No Australian troops or sources have been hurt by anything we have published.
But our publications have been far from unimportant. The US diplomatic cables reveal some startling facts:
► The US asked its diplomats to steal personal human material and information from UN officials and human rights groups, including DNA, fingerprints, iris scans, credit card numbers, internet passwords and ID photos, in violation of international treaties. Presumably Australian UN diplomats may be targeted, too.
► King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asked the US to attack Iran.
► Officials in Jordan and Bahrain want Iran’s nuclear program stopped by any means available.
► Britain’s Iraq inquiry was fixed to protect “US interests”.
► Sweden is a covert member of NATO and US intelligence sharing is kept from parliament.
► The US is playing hardball to get other countries to take freed detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama agreed to meet the Slovenian President only if Slovenia took a prisoner. Our Pacific neighbour Kiribati was offered millions of dollars to accept detainees.
- The Guardian story, “US Senator Joe Lieberman suggests New York Times could be investigated,” gives the reader an idea of just how far American leaders are going to demonize the press exercising its freedoms:
A leading US senator suggested tonight that the New York Times and other news organisations publishing the US embassy cables being released by WikiLeaks could be investigated for breaking US espionage laws.
Joe Lieberman, the chair of the Senate homeland security committee, told Fox News: “To me the New York Times has committed at least an act of, at best, bad citizenship, but whether they have committed a crime is a matter of discussion for the justice department.”
Lieberman also said that the department of justice should indict Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, under the 1917 Espionage Act and try to extradite him from the UK. Asked why this had not happened, Lieberman admitted there was probably an argument going on over how to charge Assange.
“I think this is the most serious violation of the Espionage Act in our history,” Lieberman said, adding: “It sure looks to me that Assange and WikiLeaks have violated the Espionage Act.”
- There couldn’t be a better day to announce, “U.S. to Host World Press Freedom Day in 2011.” What’s even better is that this year’s theme is ‘21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers’ – you know, like Wikileaks and America’s fight for its freedom:
The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 – May 3 in Washington, D.C. UNESCO is the only UN agency with the mandate to promote freedom of expression and its corollary, freedom of the press.
The theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers. The United States places technology and innovation at the forefront of its diplomatic and development efforts. New media has empowered citizens around the world to report on their circumstances, express opinions on world events, and exchange information in environments sometimes hostile to such exercises of individuals’ right to freedom of expression. At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age.
- Meanwhile, a blogger is wondering, “Could Just Reading WikiLeaks Get You Nixed From Working as a Federal Attorney?”:
As if law students did have enough to worry about when trying to get jobs, career services at Boston University School of Law has pointed out another potential pitfall that may terrify its students. According to BU, merely reading the WikiLeaks documents could prevent you from getting the security clearances necessary to get certain government jobs …
Here’s the message from BU’s career services office:
Dear Students and Alumni,
Today I received information about Wikileaks that I want to pass on to you. This is most relevant if you are going to apply for or have already applied for federal government positions. Two big factors in hiring for many federal government positions are determining if the applicants have good judgment and if they know how to deal with confidential/classified information. The documents released by Wikileaks remain classified; thus, reading them, passing them on, commenting on them may be seen as a violation of Executive Order 13526, Classified National Security Information. See Section 5.5 (Sanctions).
For many federal government jobs, applicants must obtain security clearances. There are various levels of security checks, but all federal positions require background checks. As part of such checks, social media may be researched to see what you are up to, so DO NOT post links to the documents or make comments on any social media sites. Moreover, polygraphs are conducted for the highest levels of security clearance.
I have not yet heard any fallout about specific individuals, but we wanted to give you this take on the situation.
Assistant Dean for Career Development and Public Service
Wikileaks proves money behind Lockerbie bomber release
Gaddafi threatened to cut British interests ‘off at the knees’ if Lockerbie bomber died in Scottish jail, WikiLeaks reveals
The Lockerbie bomber was freed following ‘thuggish threats’ from Colonel Gaddafi to take ‘harsh and immediate action’ against UK interests in Libya.
The dictator threatened to cut Britain ‘off at the knees’ unless Abdelbaset Ali Al-Megrahi was sent home and offered a ‘parade of treats’ to the Scottish government.
By releasing the bomber, Scottish leaders sparked fury among the relatives of the 270 killed in 1988 when a Pan Am plane was brought down over Lockerbie.
Megrahi was allowed to return home to Libya to a hero’s welcome in August 2009.
The shock revelations in leaked diplomatic cables finally torpedo the claims of the UK’s then Labour government that commercial considerations played no role in the release of the man convicted of Britain’s worst terrorist atrocity.
The U.S. documents, released last night by the WikiLeaks website, reveal Libyan officials ‘convinced UK embassy officers that the consequences if Megrahi were to die in prison… would be harsh, immediate and not easily remedied’.
Among the ‘specific threats’ were the ‘immediate cessation of all UK commercial activity in Libya, a diminishing or severing of political ties, and demonstrations against official UK facilities’.
The papers are hugely embarrassing since they reveal that Gordon Brown’s government was in full agreement that Megrahi should be sent home.
Former Justice Secretary Jack Straw has admitted that plans to include Megrahi in the agreement were made in part for commercial reasons.
Wikileaks reveals Saudi plan to invade Lebanon
Saudis proposed Arab force to invade Lebanon
Saudi Arabia proposed creating an Arab force backed by US and Nato air and sea power to intervene in Lebanon two years ago and destroy Iranian-backed Hezbollah, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.
The plan would have sparked a proxy battle between the US and its allies against Iran, fought in one of the most volatile regions of the world.
The Saudi plan was never enacted but reflects the anxiety of Saudi Arabia – as well as the US – about growing Iranian influence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The proposal was made by the veteran Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, to the US special adviser to Iraq, David Satterfield. The US responded by expressing scepticism about the military feasibility of the plan.
It would have marked a return of US forces to Lebanon almost three decades after they fled in the wake of the 1983 suicide attack on US marine barracks in Beirut that killed 299 American and French military personnel.
Faisal, in a US cable marked secret, emphasised the need for what he referred to as a “security response” to the military challenge to the Lebanon government from Hezbollah, the Shia militia backed by Iran and, to a lesser extent, Syria.
The cable says: “Specifically, Saud argued for an ‘Arab force’ to create and maintain order in and around Beirut.
“The US and Nato would need to provide transport and logistical support, as well as ‘naval and air cover’. Saud said that a Hezbollah victory in Beirut would mean the end of the Siniora government and the ‘Iranian takeover’ of Lebanon.”
The discussion came just days after Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon laid siege to Beirut, threatening the pro-western government of Fouad Siniora, after 17 months of street demonstrations.
US does nothing while students in visa program are abused
The Associated Press
US fails to tackle student visa abuses
Lured by unsupervised, third-party brokers with promises of steady jobs and a chance to sightsee, some foreign college students on summer work programs in the U.S. get a far different taste of life in America.
An Associated Press investigation found students forced to work in strip clubs instead of restaurants. Others take home $1 an hour or even less. Some live in apartments so crowded that they sleep in shifts because there aren’t enough beds. Others have to eat on floors.
They are among more than 100,000 college students who come to the U.S. each year on popular J-1 visas, which supply resorts with cheap seasonal labor as part of a program aimed at fostering cultural understanding.
Government auditors have warned about problems in the program for 20 years, but the State Department, which is in charge of it, only now says it is working on new rules. Officials won’t say what those rules are or discuss on the record the problems that have plagued J-1 visas.
“A lot of people” had health issues with Michigan’s summer oil spill
Battle Creek Enquirer
Study looks at oil spill health issues
Hundreds of people suffered from health problems after the July 25 oil spill, according to a report released this week.
After a busted Enbridge, Inc. pipeline sent 819,000 gallons of oil into local waterways, people living near the spill site, Talmadge Creek or the Kalamazoo River suffered from acute, or quickly apparent, health issues.
The study, conducted by the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Calhoun County Public Health Department, tracked the numbers and symptoms of people suffering from health problems after the oil spill.
“One of the messages is that we were documenting people that had acute health effects in this spill,” said Martha Stanbury, section manager for the Michigan Department of Community Health Division of Environmental Health. “These were primarily related to the odor. As I understand, it was really intense” …
The most common ailment was headache, followed by respiratory trouble, dizziness, fatigue and chest pain, stomach problems, skin and eye irritation and anxiety (in order from most to least common).
“We documented that a lot of people that lived in these communities experienced symptoms, but not everybody,” Stanbury said.
Smokers and those with chronic health problems were affected more by the smell than others, according to the study. It also suggests that those living in properties with lower values might be more likely to have chronic diseases.
Communities that were surveyed were not named, but the study said symptoms were highest in the area with the lowest property values and highest smoking rate, an 80-home “village” about five miles downstream from the spill.
Toronto cops’ “illegal” and “likely unconstitutional” authority
Ombudsman charges G20 secret law was ‘illegal’
It was “illegal” and “likely unconstitutional” for Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government to pass a secret regulation that police used to detain people near Toronto’s G20 summit of world leaders last summer, says Ombudsman Andre Marin.
In a scorching 125-page report entitled Caught in the Act, Marin said the measure “should never have been enacted” and “was almost certainly beyond the authority of the government to enact.”
“Responsible protesters and civil rights groups who took the trouble to educate themselves about their rights had no way of knowing they were walking into a trap – they were literally caught in the Act; the Public Works Protection Act and its pernicious regulatory offspring,” he told reporters.
Marin recommended that the little-known 1939 legislation should be revised or replaced and protocols developed so the public is made better aware when police powers are modified. He has given the government six months to make progress on this front.
As first disclosed by the Star on June 25, the Liberal cabinet – at the request of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair—quietly designated areas within the G20 security zone a “public work” using regulation 233/10 under the Act …
“The effect of the regulation … was to infringe on the freedom of expression in ways that do not seem justifiable in a free and democratic society,” the watchdog continued.
“It gave police powers that are unfamiliar in a free and democratic society. Steps should have been taken to ensure that the Toronto Police Service understood what they were getting” …
The temporary regulation, enacted June 2, was supposed to clear up any confusion for police officers if they had to stop someone inside the restricted area around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where world leaders met June 26-27.
But Torontonians were left with the erroneous impression that police had been granted the power to arrest people who refused to provide identification or submit to a search within five metres of the outer perimeter …
Thousands of protesters took to city streets with small bands of vandals smashing shop windows, torching police cars, and creating mayhem in the downtown core.
While police arrested 1,105 people and charged 278, the majority of detainees were released without being booked and most charges have since been dropped.
Along with McMurtry’s probe, retired judge John W. Morden is doing an investigation of the G20 command structure and policing model at the behest of the Toronto Police Services Board.
Haiti ablaze with post-election protests
The Associated Press
Blazing protests demand carnival singer lead Haiti
Protesters enraged by the results of Haiti’s troubled presidential election set barricades and political offices ablaze, traded blows with U.N. peacekeepers and shut down the country’s lone international airport Wednesday, creating the social upheaval many have feared since the Jan. 12 earthquake.
The fallout from the Nov. 28 election, riddled by fraud, is violently shutting down cities across the impoverished country with gunfire and barricades at a moment when medical aid workers need to tackle a surging cholera epidemic that has claimed more than 2,000 lives.
The protesters back a popular carnival singer who narrowly lost a spot in a runoff election to Jude Celestin, a political unknown viewed by supporters and detractors alike as a continuation of unpopular President Rene Preval’s administration. The U.S. Embassy criticized the preliminary results Tuesday, saying Haitian, U.S. and other international monitors had predicted that Celestin was likely to be eliminated in the first round.
On Wednesday, demonstrators carried pink signs with the smiling face and bald head of their candidate, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, and challenged heavily armored foreign soldiers to near-theatrical confrontations. Outside the provisional electoral council headquarters, a former gym in the suburb of Petionville, young men wearing their shirts as masks threw rocks at U.N. troops.
The soldiers — Indians and Pakistanis working as a single unit — responded with exploding canisters of tear gas that washed over a nearby earthquake-refugee camp, sending mothers running from their tarps with their crying, coughing children in tow.
Protesters set fire to the headquarters of Preval and Celestin’s Unity party. Multiple fire trucks responded to the scene as flames licked the roof — an unusual scene in a country with few public services — but in late afternoon piles of charred campaign posters continued to smolder.
“We want Martelly. The whole world wants Martelly,” said James Becimus, a 32-year-old protester near the U.S. Embassy. “Today we set fires, tomorrow we bring weapons.”
Other protesters said they would continue to mobilize but do so nonviolently, which Martelly urged them to do in a radio address Wednesday. He also told supporters to watch out for “infiltrators” who might try to incite violence.
“Demonstrating without violence is the right of the people,” he said. “I will be with you until the bald-head victory.”
Preval urged the candidates to call off the protests.
“This is not how the country is supposed to work,” he said in a live radio speech. “People are suffering because of all this damage.”
Preval’s administration has been condemned by many Haitians for failing to spearhead reconstruction of the country after the earthquake. More than an estimated 1 million people still live under tarps and tents and little of the promised international aid from the United States and other countries has arrived.
Preliminary election results put Celestin ahead of Martelly by just 6,845 votes for second place, while former first lady and law professor Mirlande Manigat took first place. The top two candidates advance to the Jan. 16 second round.
Thousands were disenfranchised by confusion on the rolls, which were overstuffed with earthquake dead but lacked many living voters. There were reported incidents of ballot-stuffing, violence and intimidation confirmed by international observers, but U.N. peacekeepers and the joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission said the problems did not invalidate the vote.
Turnout was low. Just over 1 million people cast accepted ballots out of some 4.7 million registered voters. It is not known how many ballots were thrown out for fraud.
In a televised address, Preval took a swipe at Washington’s criticism of the election results, saying that while he was open to discussing electoral problems with anyone, “the American Embassy is not (the electoral council).”
- The Guardian pictorial, “Protests in Haiti as election goes to run-off,” gives you the slightest idea of what things look like on the island.
Palestinian state recognized … by three South American nations
The Jerusalem Post
South American countries recognize Palestinian state
Following in Brazil’s footsteps from last Friday, Argentina announced on Monday it recognized a “free and independent” Palestinian state, sparking an immediate condemnation from Israel.
Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a letter that her country recognized a Palestine defined by 1967 borders, Argentine officials said.
The Argentine Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement that the move was designed to help “definitively advance the negotiation process that will lead to the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”
Uruguay announced soon afterward that it would recognize a Palestinian state next year. “Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011,” Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde told AFP.
Israel expressed “regret and disappointment” on Monday night at Argentina’s decision to join Brazil in recognizing an independent Palestinian state.
“Recognition of a Palestinian state is a violation of the interim agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995, which established that the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be discussed and solved through negotiations,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement said that recognition of a Palestinian state also contradicted the road map.
“All attempts to bypass negotiations and to unilaterally determine issues in dispute will only harm the trust of the sides and their commitment to agreed upon frameworks for negotiations,” the statement read.
US plan for new settlements unlikely to be approved by Israel
Los Angeles Times
U.S. dropping demand that Israel freeze settlement building, official says
The Obama administration is dropping its demand that Israel reimpose a temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank, a U.S. official said Tuesday, a setback for President Obama and the Mideast peace talks he is seeking to push forward.
The change in direction comes in advance of meetings of U.S., Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington next week. U.S. negotiators no longer believe that insisting on a settlement freeze is the best way to proceed, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But it was not immediately clear what other proposals the Obama administration might put forward.
News reports said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would outline the new U.S. strategy in a speech on Friday.
The decision is likely to anger Palestinians, who have demanded an end to settlement construction as a condition for continuing direct negotiations that were relaunched in September …
At Obama’s urging, the two sides launched face-to-face talks this fall, but they fell apart over the settlement issue. A temporary freeze on construction in disputed territory expired in late September, and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to renew it.
The U.S. has been pressing Israel to renew the freeze for three months, a period during which it hoped to negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state. U.S. officials offered incentives including 20 stealth fighter jets worth $3 billion and a promise to veto anti-Israeli resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, including a possible effort by Palestinians to gain support for a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Under the U.S. proposal, once both sides agreed to the borders, Israel could have continued building in areas that would become part of Israel.
Netanyahu faced strong opposition when he brought the plan to his Cabinet last month. The Israeli government has not acted on it, and it is unclear whether the prime minister had the support to get it passed.
In the meantime, settler groups resumed construction in the West Bank. Separately, Israeli authorities announced that they would build more housing on disputed land in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be the capital of their independent state. Although the U.S. opposed such construction in East Jerusalem, it has not been included in the construction freezes.
Some analysis have said that the announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem reflects an Israeli calculation that Obama is politically weaker after the Democrats’ drubbing in November elections.