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FACT CHECK: Netanyahu’s One Sided Coin

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JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an impassioned defense of his approach to peace during a speech to Congress on Tuesday. But the address reflected the world view of Israel’s nationalistic right wing, one of several conflicting narratives that divide Israelis and Palestinians.

Here is a sampling of Netanyahu’s claims along with what he did not mention.

NETANYAHU: “You don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves.”

THE FACTS: Israel is a leading recipient of American foreign aid, including more than $1 billion in military assistance each year.
NETANYAHU: “In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo.”

THE FACTS: While the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, is promised to the Jewish people in the Bible, the international community considers the West Bank occupied territory. Israel captured the area in the 1967 Mideast war but has never annexed it. Its occupied status is underscored by the presence of tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers who protect Israeli settlements and control the movement of Palestinian residents in the name of security.

NETANYAHU: “You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it.”

THE FACTS: Israel does give its Arab minority full civil rights, including participation in elections. But Israeli Arabs suffer from systematic discrimination in housing and the workplace. Also, more than 2 million Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have Israeli citizenship and therefore cannot vote in Israeli elections.

NETANYAHU: “The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and greater Tel Aviv.”

THE FACTS: Nearly all of these communities were built in the face of overwhelming international opposition and are considered illegal settlements by the world, including the U.S. There are 300,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and 200,000 in east Jerusalem, making a total of 500,000.

NETANYAHU: “The Palestinian economy is booming. It’s growing by more than 10 percent a year.”

THE FACTS: The West Bank economy is indeed growing rapidly. But the World Bank has noted that the growth comes after years of contraction during fighting with Israel and has been fueled by huge amounts of foreign aid. It warns the growth is unsustainable unless Israel does more to encourage the Palestinian private sector.

NETANYAHU: “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaida.”

THE FACTS: While Hamas and al-Qaida have killed hundreds of people in religious holy wars, they have no connection, and Hamas has in fact come under criticism from the global terror network for being too moderate. Al-Qaida preaches global jihad. Hamas says its struggle is solely against Israel, not the West at large. In its Gaza stronghold, Hamas has violently clashed with smaller armed groups that claim inspiration from al-Qaida.

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US ‘begins talks’ with the Taliban

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A report claims that the Obama administration has launched exploratory contacts with senior leaders of the Afghan insurgency

The Afghan conflict has not lacked peace initiatives in the past few years. There have been at least a dozen back-channel contacts with the Taliban brokered by a mix of governments, institutions or individuals. But until now, it has been a cottage industry, producing reports but no tangible gains.


The talks are said to be the legacy of the late US envoy, Richard Holbrooke.

Many of those involved in these encounters predicted that there would be no way of knowing whether the Taliban leadership was interested in making a deal until Washington decided to engage with it directly. That now appears to have happened.

A report by Steve Coll in the current edition of the New Yorker reports that:

The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.

There are few details. We do not learn which Taliban figures are taking part, though Mullah Omar is apparently not involved. Nor is it clear whether the contacts are being orchestrated on the US side by the state department or the White House. Coll gives credit for inspiring them to Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan who died in December.

According to European diplomats, Barack Obama has told his national security staff that 2011 should be the year in which the political track towards a resolution takes precedence over the military approach. The US-Taliban contacts, if confirmed, signal that Washington is no longer content to leave the pace of political progress to the Afghan government that has little incentive in a settlement that would almost certainly put it out of business.

The next step will be a meeting of the international contact group early next month in Jeddah, where the special envoys (including Holbrooke’s replacement, Marc Grossman) will be hosted by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Such meetings are generally too large and unwieldy to yield concrete results, but the OIC’s role this time will be widely seen as a blessing from the Islamic world for the search for a negotiated solution, important in turn for drawing in major Taliban figures. Holbrooke is said to have seen the OIC’s agreement to play host as a major coup and had been excitedly briefing Hillary Clinton on the development when he was taken ill.

The other big hope is that now there is news of direct US-Taliban talks, other regional players, Pakistan and Iran in particular, will play a more engaged role in multilateral talks, for fear of being left behind by a ‘peace train’ that might finally be leaving the station.