Obama to Morocco: End Israel's isolation

Barak to meet Mitchell in London tomorrow; Oren says Israel looking for gestures that Arab world accepts Israel as 'permanent reality.'

morocco king muhammad 6 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
morocco king muhammad 6 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In an apparent effort to get the Arab world to make some gestures toward Israel, US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Morocco's King Mohammed VI, saying he hoped Rabat would "be a leader in bridging gaps between Israel and the Arab world." Obama reiterated in the letter that Israel had to "stop settlements, dismantle outposts, and remove roadblocks," while Palestinians needed "to build up their security forces to confront terrorism, end incitement, and reform their institutions to build a Palestinian state." Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador-designate to the US Michael Oren said Thursday at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Aspen, Colorado, that in terms of Israel's relations with the Arab world, what he would like to see were "some gestures from the Arab world to show that, OK, we've been at war for 61 years, enough is enough." Oren, according to a report in the Aspen Daily News, said: "How about showing us some gestures that you recognize the State of Israel is a permanent reality in the Middle East and isn't going away? "I'd like to be able to take my next vacation in Riyadh," he added. Defense Minister Ehud Barak will hold another meeting with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell in London on Monday, a week after their last meeting in New York - an indication of the intensity of the efforts to find a compromise solution with the US on the settlement construction issue. One senior government official said the talks represented a continuation of the discussions in New York, and the "serious and ongoing efforts" of the US and Israel to "find common ground." During the meeting, Barak is expected to provide some answers to questions Mitchell raised last week, as well as hear answers to questions that Israel posed to the US, including what gestures it can expect from the Arab world. Since their last meeting, Barak has met with Netanyahu, and Mitchell with Obama. Mitchell is expected to come to Israel in around two weeks, and is expected to meet then with Netanyahu. On Saturday night, the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza urgently requested a meeting with Netanyahu before Mitchell arrives, to discuss what council chairman Danny Dayan described as a de facto building freeze already in place. "In effect, we find ourselves in the midst of a total freeze; there hasn't been a single building plan approved in Judea and Samaria for many months," Dayan said, in a statement. Addressing Netanyahu, he said, "The government you head started its tenure with a declared intention to rejuvenate Jewish settlement, in accordance with its commitment to those who voted for most of its component parties, and your own personal commitment." On Friday, Netanyahu convened a meeting of his inner cabinet, which - in addition to Barak - also includes Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Bennie Begin, and Dan Meridor. Two camps have emerged in this inner cabinet. The first, which includes Netanyahu, Barak and Meridor, is interested in finding a compromise solution on settlement construction, perhaps even freezing construction for a limited time if that is accompanied by gestures from the Arab world. Among the gestures being discussed are the opening of trade offices, direct economic links, public cultural and educational ties, and overfly rights for Israeli airlines. The other ministers, Lieberman, Ya'alon and Begin, are opposed to freezing construction in the settlement blocs that will likely remain in Israel's hands under any future agreement, and are also opposed to preconditions to restarting negotiations with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have made a settlement freeze a condition to entering negotiations with the Netanyahu government. Barak will be accompanied to London by Amos Gilad, the Defense Ministry's diplomatic-military bureau chief, and Yitzhak Molcho, Netanyahu's envoy on the Palestinian issue. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a close Barak ally, said Saturday at a cultural event in Ramat Gan that Israel has strategic understandings with the US that "I cannot imagine living without. "I look at the full half of the glass... let's leverage US pressure for our benefit," Ben-Eliezer said. "A strong Israel is also an American interest, but strengthening settlements is not. Maybe in five years we will be able to say we gave a great present to our children and grandchildren." Ben-Eliezer said that while Obama was "no [George W.] Bush and no [Bill] Clinton, but he's certainly not a [Jimmy] Carter. He sees the world differently and I think maybe this is a chance for us to overcome psychological hang-ups and 'flow' with the diplomacy he leads." Ynet reported over the weekend that the defense establishment was recommending an easing of the blockade of Gaza to advance negotiations over captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit's release. According to the report, the recommendations include allowing coffee, tea, soup and canned foods into Gaza, as well as fuel for electricity production. The recommendations need the approval of the political echelon. The report said that the recommendations distinguished between humanitarian aid, that may help advance the negotiations for Schalit, and allowing into Gaza materials such as cement, concrete and iron, which could be used to help rebuild Hamas's terrorism infrastructure. The US has been urging Israel for months to ease up on the goods that it prevents from being transferred into the Gaza Strip.