- Palestinians issue then disavow new list of conditions on Israel, deepening concerns over leadership indecision
- Iran moves to bolster private industries, as analysts express concerns over Obama administration assurances on sanctions
- Iranian Palestinian foreign minister: Don't expect "any consequences... at all" from Congress after undermining peace talks
Palestinian officials on Thursday reportedly presented a new list of demands that the Israelis would have to meet lest the Palestinians abandon peace talks, as Jerusalem reacted to Tuesday's diplomatic gambit by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas - in which Abbas committed to joining 15 international treaties in violation of commitments designed to promote a nine-month peace push by Secretary of State John Kerry - by canceling a planned fourth prisoner release. Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni, who has pushed heavily for the Jewish state to make concessions and was a key figure in laying the groundwork for Kerry's initiative, emphasized that prisoner releases had always been linked to progress in negotiations, and that "new conditions were established" by Abbas's move. Reports of the Palestinians' new demands, moreover, were assessed by Israeli outlet Yediot Aharonot as indicating an even further "hardening of positions." The list included requirements that the Jewish state cede East Jerusalem, lift restrictions on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, end anti-terror operations in parts of the West Bank, and release 1,200 prisoners. The conditions - some of which could most generously be described as non-starters, and which contributed to perceptions of Palestinian intransigence - were quickly disavowed by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who publicly insisted that the demands were not coming from him or his staff. The incident, which was widely reported by Palestinian media outlets, came alongside other signals of potential indecision among the Palestinian leadership. The Associated Press had noted that Abbas's initial press conference on Tuesday appeared to have been "hastily convened." The Palestinian leader's speech at that press conference insisted that the Palestinians were seeking to cooperate with the United States, even as he announced steps that risked crippling Kerry's initiative, and that they were still interested in negotiating with Israel, despite actions that violated core commitments to avoid unilateralism stretching back to the Oslo Accords.
The daily Iran news bulletin published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) yesterday conveyed Persian-language remarks from a top Iranian official declaring that the Hassan Rouhani government was committed to leveraging the private sector in order to stabilize and then boost Iran's economy, a day after Rouhani himself gestured toward the same theme in comments about the country's Free Trade Zone. First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri was quoted as saying that Rouhani and his cabinet had accepted that they would have to "rely on the private sector" in order to address its economic problems. The statements come amid news reports indicating that Western companies are seeking to enter Iran's reopened markets in the aftermath of sanctions relief provided by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Last week Forbes published analysis from Emanuele Ottolenghi and Benjamin Weinthal - respectively a senior fellow and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies - outlining extensive and growing business ties between Iran and Swiss companies. The Wall Street Journal had for its part described Western firms, including Michelin and Schlumberger, as "walk[ing] a fine line" in their eagerness to respond to aggressive courtship by the Islamic republic. The Financial Times had already in February described French, German, and Dutch delegations scrambling to "seize opportunities" in Iran. At stake are assurances made by the Obama administration to lawmakers and the public insisting that the international sanctions regime was holding despite the JPA's erosion of some sanctions, and that new congressional legislation to provide Western negotiators with more leverage was unnecessary. Speaking yesterday at a Senate hearing, Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen declared that he was unaware of any firms "anywhere" – not in "Europe, the Gulf, [or] Asia" - that were "trying to take advantage... [of] the quite limited suspension of the sanctions to get into the Iranian market." Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, described the claim as "bulls**t" [sic].
Reuters on Thursday published details from a Wednesday press conference held by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki, in which Malki declared that he didn't "expect any consequences coming from the U.S. Congress... at all" after Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas signed papers requesting membership for the "State of Palestine" in 15 international treaties. Malki also told reporters that the moves were designed to strengthen the Palestinians' "legal arsenal" in waging diplomatic warfare against Israel. Abbas's gambit was broadly seen as specifically violating Palestinian commitments not to turn to the UN during a nine-month negotiation period held under the auspices of Secretary of State John Kerry, and more broadly may have run afoul of the Palestinians' Oslo Accord commitments not to unilaterally change the legal status of the West Bank. It also threatened to trigger language in this year's congressional omnibus spending bill that made U.S. assistance to the PA contingent on the Palestinians maintaining the status quo at the UN. Al-Monitor reported late on Wednesday that there were bipartisan moves being made in the House to "withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid" in response to the Palestinian maneuver. The outlet quoted House Appropriations Chairwoman Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) assessing that U.S. assistance was designed to help the Palestinians "try to negotiate at the peace table in good faith," and that turning back to the UN flew in the face of those efforts. It also quoted Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) suggesting that Congress would have to revisit whether investing in the PA could still be considered "the most productive step we could take to encourage peace."
The United Nations on Thursday announced that more than one million refugees have flooded into Lebanon from Syria, creating what The New York Times described as "the highest concentration of refugees as a percentage of population in the world, with about one Syrian for every three Lebanese." The outlet quoted Rachid Derbas, Lebanon's minister of social affairs, calling for the international community to respond to the grim milestone with a "humanitarian and political" campaign aimed at dampening the strain on Beirut. The new assessments grabbed the attention of both media and policy analysts. Foreign Policy magazine's Middle East Editor David Kenner tweeted what he described as a "staggering graphic" documenting the flow of refugees into Lebanon, noting that the number only included the "registered ones." The specific post was retweed hundreds of times, and was also used as fodder for dozens of other tweets, including one shared by Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff. Analysts have only recently begun to seriously unpack the potential long-term consequences of the crisis for Lebanon. It is not straightforward to trace, for instance, how the presence of roughly one million new Sunnis will affect Lebanon's notoriously delicate confessional balance, nor how it will undermine the control of the Shiite Hezbollah militia that dominates the country militarily and has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to paralyze it politically.
* Yesterday's edition of the DailyTIP described Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas as currently “serving a ninth year in his originally four year” presidential term. Abbas is actually in his tenth year at the post. The DailyTIP regrets the error.