The Middle East Channel

Peace Talks Falter as Abbas Signs International Treaties

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planned for Wednesday in the Palestinian capital of Ramallah after a surprise move by the Palestinian leader to sign 15 international conventions. Abbas signed applications as the "State of Palestine" to join U.N. agencies and ratify international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions. Abbas hopes this will give Palestinians greater leverage against Israel however, he did not move toward joining the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians could lodge formal complaints against Israeli presence in the West Bank. Meanwhile, on Tuesday Israel reissued tenders for 708 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem. From a NATO meeting in Brussels, Kerry said, "We urge both sides to show restraint while we work with them." Kerry insisted it is premature to write off Israeli-Palestinian peace talks saying, "There are a lot of possibilities at play." The recent hurdle to negotiations was triggered Saturday when Israel failed to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners as part of an agreement that led to the resumption of talks in July 2013. Abbas said that Israel's failure to stick to the accord meant he no longer needed to maintain his commitment not to seek membership in international bodies.

Headlines

  • A third explosion has hit outside Cairo University in Egypt about two hours after two bombings in the same location killed a police chief and a civilian.
  • Several attacks in Iraq Tuesday killed eight soldiers as campaigning began for May's general election.
  • Clashes in Yemen's western al-Hadida province killed two soldiers and two al-Qaeda linked militants meanwhile eight people were killed when militants attacked an army complex in Aden.
  • Lebanese troops have expanded operations into the Tripoli neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh in efforts to halt violence conducting raids that sparked Sunni Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad to flee the area.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Turkish Ballot-Box Revolt That Wasn't' (Sohrab Ahmari, The Wall Street Journal)

"'Politics have become an arena of gladiators and there is no possibility left for an honorable struggle,' wrote Ertugrul Ozkok, a columnist for the liberal, English-language Hurriyet Daily News, ahead of the vote. The Gezi generation, its hopes now crushed and its prospects looking limited, is likely to settle on waging an "honorable struggle" in the streets and on social media. What its members really need to do is to translate liberal politics into a solid agenda with broad appeal. The CHP and other legacy secularist parties may not be up to the task.

The AKP and Mr. Erdogan, meanwhile, would do well to remember that for Turkey to reach the ranks of the world's top-10 economies, as promised on the campaign trail, the country needs the participation and energy of people like Onur Dedeoglu and his compatriots. The Gezi generation is talented and highly employable-and it can also vote with its feet."

'John Kerry's Peace Talks Are Almost Dead. A Preemptive Obituary' (John B. Judis, New Republic)

"As I read the news today, the Doors' song, 'The End,' kept playing in my mind. ‘This is the end ... the end of an elaborate plan.' Maybe it isn't the end of American peace efforts, but it sure looks like it. Abbas was the most moderate leader that the Israelis have ever had to negotiate with, but Netanyahu was not ready to make a deal-his coalition itself was too divided-and the Obama administration was not willing to put the kind of pressure on him that might have led him to act boldly. Kerry deserves credit for initiating the negotiations-I doubt that without him, Obama would have done anything in his second term-but Kerry was largely on his own. There was little sign that Obama was willing to risk the furor that would greet any attempt to press Netanyahu hard to make concessions. So Kerry followed a familiar diplomatic script-shuttling between the sides, interminable discussions between teams of negotiators, frameworks, deadlines-but, sadly and perhaps predictably, it does not look like the play will have a happy ending."

-- Mary Casey

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

U.S. Considers Releasing Israeli Spy to Extend Peace Talks

The United States is discussing releasing Jonathan Pollard, an American-Israeli convicted of spying for Israel, in part of a deal to extend peace talks. Pollard is a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who was arrested in 1985 for passing classified documents to Israeli agents. He is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison and Israel has long sought his release. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an unscheduled visit to the Middle East on Monday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in efforts to salvage peace talks amid a dispute over an Israeli delay in the release of a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners. According to U.S. officials, the release of Pollard would be part of a broader agreement to extend negotiations past the April 29 deadline. According to an anonymous source close to the talks between Kerry and Netanyahu, the agreement could include a suspension of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank (not including East Jerusalem), an extension of negotiations into 2015, and the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners as selected by Israel. U.S. officials say no decision has been made and Pollard's release would require President Barack Obama's approval. 

Syria

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 150,344 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011. According to the group, the figure includes 51,212 civilians, 37,781 opposition fighters, and 58,480 regime forces. On Monday, Syrian government forces recaptured Observatory 45, a strategic position in the regime stronghold of Latakia province, countering recent opposition gains in the region. Amidst the violence, Moaffak Makhoul and a team of six other Syrian artists have created a mural made of recycled materials in Damascus setting a Guinness record.

Headlines

  • British Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood over alleged links to violent extremism and to determine if the group is using London to plan attacks.
  • Two Tunisian policemen have been sentenced to seven years in prison for raping a woman in a case that triggered protests after she was initially charged with violating modesty laws.
  • The Lebanese army has stepped up efforts to quell violence in the northern city of Tripoli deploying troops and conducting raids.
  • Three Al Jazeera journalists were again denied bail by an Egyptian court Monday after they denied charges that they have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Arguments and Analysis

'Jonathan Pollard: Why Israel wants him free, why the U.S. doesn't, and what might happen next' (Adam Taylor, Washington Post)

"The Obama administration is reportedly considering freeing spy Jonathan Pollard in return for concessions from the Israeli government.

If it happens, it certainly would be a bold move. The release of Pollard, who was arrested in November 1985 after passing secret documents to Israel while working as a civilian analyst working for U.S. Navy, would mark a reversal of decades of official U.S. policy.

It could also, however, be a key step forward for Middle East peace negotiations.

Why is Israel so keen to have Pollard released? And why would the United States change its mind now?

Pollard's case is a remarkable one for many reasons. A Jewish-American, Pollard is reported to have felt an extreme loyalty to the Israeli state. He was working as a research analyst at the Navy's Field Operations Intelligence Office, specifically the Threat Analysis Division in the office's Anti-Terrorist Alert Center, when he was recruited by Israel in the summer of 1984.

According to an Associated Press report from the time, Pollard was paid around $50,000 for his leaks, and expected to eventually earn more than 10 times that amount. His leaks eventually caught the attention of colleagues, who notified the FBI, and he was arrested while trying to request asylum at the Israeli Embassy in Washington (his attempts were rebuffed)."

'Investing in the Arab World' (Financial Times)

"The world may be recovering from the financial crisis, but the Middle East's attempts to lure investment have lagged behind during three years of political unrest.

Global foreign direct investment rose 11 per cent in 2013 to $1.46tn, a level comparable with the pre-crisis average, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. West Asia, however, was the only region to witness a fifth consecutive year of declining FDI in 2013, falling another 20 per cent to $38bn.

Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab recipient, faced a decline of 19 per cent to $9.9bn; Unctad said: "The worsening political instability in many parts of the region has caused uncertainty and negatively affected investment."

But despite the continued unrest across the region, large companies and some private equity funds are starting to deploy capital across the Middle East again. Some are also considering countries still reeling from political turbulence."

-- Mary Casey

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images