Netanyahu faces 'difficult choices' going into AIPAC speech
Going into his AIPAC speech today, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces stern US warnings, Palestinian exasperation, and a fractious coalition government and rising violence back home.
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The latest flare-up in US-Israel relations was spurred when one of Netanyahu's cabinet members announced the building of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem in the middle of US Vice President Joe Biden's visit two weeks ago.Skip to next paragraph
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That was largely because Netanyahu's Interior Ministry is controlled by the increasingly right-wing party Shas, which has become a fervent advocate of settling Jews in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. If Netanyahu makes a deal promising to stop settlement in Jerusalem, Shas and other rightist parties might try to bolt from his coalition – leaving him without a government. But, analysts note, Netanayhu could always remake his government by going into a coalition with the centrist Kadima party.
Mitchell: 'Calm and quiet' needed now
By the end of the week, Obama administration officials are hoping that they might persuade Palestinians to stick with an agreement reached just before Biden's visit to renew talks with Israel. US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell met in Amman on Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to bring him closer to an agreement to speak, albeit indirectly, with Israel on the so-called final-status issues – including Jerusalem.
The Palestinian position over the past year or more has remained steady, with Abbas refusing to engage in talks without a freeze on settlement construction, not just in the West Bank, but in East Jerusalem as well.
Mitchell expressed his signature optimism and called for restraint from both sides in the face of more violence threatening on the horizon.
"On behalf of the United States and the president, I urge all sides to exercise restraint. What is needed now is a period of calm and quiet, in which we can go forward in the efforts we are engaged," Mitchell told reporters after meeting President Abbas, Reuters reported.
Hamas committed to cease-fire, but other militants antsy
Renegade Palestinian factions in Gaza, however, seem less than interested in Mitchell's message of restraint, and the Israeli military has responded in kind, raising concerns of the de facto but unofficial cease-fire breaking down. A small Palestinian militant launched a Qassam rocket at Israel on Sunday, and Israel launched a retaliatory air strike on Monday at Gaza's smuggling tunnels.
One of the commanders of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said that the cease-fire still holds and that Hamas has chastised those who were breaking it out of frustration over events in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Four Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the Nablus area over the weekend.
"After the wave of violence and the Israeli escalation in Jerusalem, many of the militants of the Palestinian factions fired rockets on their own accord, superseding the national consensus that was agreed upon between Hamas and all the other factions to stop firing rockets," explained the commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Mohammed.
"We know that everyone's angry about what happened in Jerusalem, but we are still committed to the national consensus of ceasing the firing of rockets," he said.