- Middle East Mediators Seek to Revive Israel-Palestine Peace Talks - Arshad Mohammed
Middle East peace mediators on Wednesday stood behind their September 23, 2011, call for the parties to reach a peace deal by the end of 2012, an objective that seems increasingly remote. (Reuters)
See also Quartet Calls for Direct Israeli-Palestinian Talks without Preconditions - Herb Keinon
The Middle East Quartet issued a statement Wednesday in Washington calling for an initial meeting between Israel and the Palestinians within 30 days, leading to the trading of comprehensive proposals on security and territory within three months, direct negotiations and an overall agreement by the end of 2012. The Israeli Prime Minister's Office issued a communique welcoming the Quartet statement "calling for a continuation of direct talks without preconditions."
The Quartet statement also encouraged Israel and the PA "to cooperate to facilitate the social and economic development of Area C," the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Israeli officials said that what was important about the Quartet statement was that it called for development in Area C through Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. The statement also condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza, without blasting Israel for its retaliatory military actions. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Statement of the Middle East Quartet - April 11, 2012 (U.S. State Department)
See also Netanyahu, Following International Plea for Progress, Suggests Direct Talks with Abbas - Raphael Ahren (Times of Israel)
See also Palestinians Spurn Netanyahu's Invitation to Resume Talks (AP-Washington Post)
- Uneasy Quiet Descends on Syria; New Calls for Protests
The opposition Syrian National Council Thursday called for demonstrations to test the resolve of the government to abide by a UN-brokered cease-fire, just hours after an uneasy calm appeared to take hold across the country. Council spokesman Fawaz Zakri said: "If the Syrian regime indeed stops the killings and abides by the cease-fire, then we think, we are sure, that the demonstrations will come back more powerfully and will cover very nearly all of Syria." White House spokesman Jay Carney cautioned that President Assad's regime has reneged on promises to stop the violence in the past. (VOA News)
- Egyptian Court Clears Way for Salafi Presidential Candidate
An Egyptian court has ruled that the mother of Hazem Abu Ismail, 50, a popular ultraconservative Islamist viewed as one of the strongest contenders for president, is not a U.S. citizen, likely clearing the way for him to run in May elections. Under the country's electoral law, all candidates for the presidency, their parents and their wives must have only Egyptian citizenship.
Abu Ismail advocates a strict interpretation of Islam similar to the one practiced in Saudi Arabia. The court session was adjourned repeatedly during the day as supporters of the Salafi candidate filled the court room and also demonstrated outside the State Council. (Al Arabiya)
See also Egyptian Presidential Candidate Abu Ismail: 9/11 Was "Fabricated" to Defame Islam (MEMRI TV)
- Clinton Overrules Republican Lawmaker's Hold on Palestinian Aid - Sara Sorcher
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is allowing U.S. funds to flow to the West Bank and Gaza despite a hold by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), in a rare display of executive-branch authority. Administrations generally do not disburse funding over the objections of lawmakers on relevant committees.
"The U.S. has given $3 billion in aid to the Palestinians in the last five years alone, and what do we have to show for it?" Ros-Lehtinen said on Wednesday. "Now the administration is sending even more. Where is the accountability for U.S. taxpayer dollars?" (National Journal)
- Cairo Reinforces Troops in Sinai as Smuggling Continues - Anshel Pfeffer
Egyptian army roadblocks are now manned by soldiers using APCs rather than police officers, but many are abandoned at night. Despite the reinforcements, seven battalions beyond the deployment levels specified in the Camp David treaties, the Egyptian army does not dare position isolated soldiers along the main road of northern Sinai out of fear of Bedouin attacks.
The reinforcements did not prevent the attacks on the natural gas pipeline to Israel, which was recently sabotaged again for the 14th time. The battalions sent to Sinai are filled with inexperienced, raw recruits, and their armored vehicles are almost all old Soviet wrecks. Few officers are visible. In my previous visits to northern Sinai, you couldn't cross the road without running into hundreds of police and Mukhabarat secret police operatives who flooded the region. Now there is no sign of them.
In Rafah and El-Arish in Sinai, most of the election posters are of the Salafist preacher Hazem Abu-Ismail. His bearded face jumps out from walls in towns where all the women are covered from head to foot - and the image of other candidates is absent. (Ha'aretz)
- Ayalon: Pollard Still in Jail Due to FBI Error - Gil Hoffman
Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard remains in an American jail in part because of a mistaken theory in the U.S. Justice Department and FBI that he had an accomplice whom Israel has refused to name, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "There of course was no partner, and the charge is totally outrageous, yet it is difficult to shake. This unrealistic and stupid suspicion could be one explanation as to why he is still in jail after so many years when others who did much more damage spying for real enemies have gotten out."
Ayalon said Passover would have been an ideal time for President Obama to commute Pollard's life sentence to the 26.5 years he has already served. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Let Pollard Go! - Editorial
Pollard is in his 27th year of imprisonment for passing American intelligence (about inimical third countries Iraq, Libya, the then-PLO headquarters in Tunis) to a friendly country (Israel). He should have been freed long ago and not only because his health is now failing.
His continued incarceration is plainly unjust. Lighter punishment was meted to assorted U.S. spies for greater offenses, including those involving tangible security risks to America. Pollard's life-term is unprecedented for transferring classified material to an ally.
We cannot escape the impression that the only reason Pollard is still denied his freedom is because he is Jewish and hence his disproportionate punishment. It is certainly high time the torment of the aging Pollard be discontinued. He has more than paid for what he did. (Jerusalem Post)
See also Call for Peres to Refuse Medal If Pollard Not Freed
Veteran Israel Radio morning news anchor Aryeh Golan called on President Peres Wednesday to consider not accepting the U.S. Medal of Freedom from President Obama if Obama refuses to release Pollard. (IMRA)
See also Conference of Presidents Leaders Back Peres' Request for Pollard's Release (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations)