Monday, January 11, 2010

Charlie Rose challenges George Mitchell on international law; Mitchell hints at cutting loan guarantees to Israel; Israeli officials freak out

Did you catch Charlie Rose's interview with George Mitchell, the U.S. "Special Envoy" to the Middle East?
The interview was mainly what one would expect--including Mitchell's use of the oft-repeated canards that this conflict has been going on for "longer than 800 years" and that Netanyahu's settlement "moratorium" is somehow unprecedented, a notion the US Campaign debunked at the time of the announcement of the moratorium--but there were a couple of particularly interesting moments.
Check out around 7:20 when Charlie Rose tries to challenge Mitchell on the role of international law in regulating Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem:
"Charlie Rose: "How many people recognize the [Israeli] annexation [of East Jerusalem], how many countries?"
George Mitchell: "To the best of my knowledge, there aren't any..."
Rose: "So you're gonna let 'em go ahead even though noone recognized the annexation?"
Mitchell: "Well you say "let 'em go ahead," it's what they regard as their country. They don't say they're letting us go ahead when we build in Manhattan or in the Bronx..."
Rose: "But don't the international rules have something to do with what someone can do to define as their country."
Mitchell: "There are disputed legal issues, of that there can be no doubt. And we could spend the next 14 years arguing over disputed legal issues, or we can try to get a negotiation to resolve them..." "
It's fascinating to see Charlie Rose brining up international law and Mitchell sidestepping the challenge. Israel's perception of East Jerusalem gets the emphasis from Mitchell--one might ask why the Palestinian refugees' perception of the Galilee aren't considered--and international law becomes somehow the subject of negotiation.
But Mitchell gave some indication that the Obama Administration is getting tired of Israel's intransigence on settlements. Check out 44:30, where Rose asks Mitchell if the United States has "any sticks," and goes on to say at 45:20 "You sit there and you say to Israel, 'If you don't do this'...what?" Mitchell responds: "Under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel."
Israeli officials and several U.S. Senators were quick to notice this vague threat of real U.S. pressure on Israel. Here's Ha'aretz reporting:
"Two key U.S. senators on Sunday dismissed Mideast envoy George Mitchell's suggestion that Washington withhold loan guarantees to pressure Israel. "I don't think it's helpful and I don't agree with it," Republican John McCain said during a visit to Jerusalem. Independent Joe Lieberman, meanwhile, pledged a fight in Congress against any such move. Israeli officials were up in arms Sunday after Mitchell posed the suggestion, meant to press Jerusalem to make concessions in negotiations with the Palestinians....Mitchell, when asked in a television interview last week what sort of pressure could be applied to Israel, replied that "under American law, the United States can withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel." Mitchell told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose that George W. Bush's administration had done so in the past. But he quickly added that he preferred persuasion to sanctions."
Interestingly enough, Ha'aretz also quotes the indignant response of many Israeli officials to the effect that Israel does not need the United States' help:
"Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz saying that Israel was "doing just fine" without American loan guarantees. "We don't need to use these guarantees," Israeli media quoted Steinitz as saying. "We are doing just fine. But several months ago we agreed with the American treasury on guarantees for 2010 and 2011, and there were no conditions." "
Senator Mitchell, we've gotta ask: if Israel is violating international law, and, when vaguely challenged on it in an interview in which you refused to hold them fully to account for these violations, responds that they don't need our money....why do we keep sending it? Surely there's better things we could be doing with it?
Organize in your Congressional district to challenge U.S. aid to Israel, and join us in D.C. March 7-8 for a Grassroots Advocacy Training and Lobby Day co-sponsored by US Campaign member group Interfaith Peace-Builders. UPDATE: U.S. State Department stumbling over itself to assure Israel that Mitchell just meant the United States could withhold loans, not that they ever would, reports Ha'aretz:
"The U.S. State Department on Monday reiterated that special Mideast envoy George Mitchell's suggestion that Washington could withhold loan guarantees if Israel continues to delay the peace process was merely a fact of "historical context." "I know that Senator Mitchell's interview with Charlie Rose last week caused some angst in various quarters perhaps in Israel. Just to clarify this, he wasn't signaling any, you know, particular course of action," Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley said."