By Elise Labott
If, as expected, the United Nations General Assembly votes Thursday to upgrade the Palestinians to non-member observer status, it could put about $500 million in U.S. aid at stake - not to mention the $100 million in monthly tax revenues Israel is threatening to withhold.
The new status would fall short of triggering U.S. legislation that automatically cuts all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority and any programs in the Palestinian territories, as well as aid to any organizations that recognize Palestine as a state. That's because the non-member designation falls short of being a full member state, which would give Palestine full voting rights in the in the U.N. General Assembly. The United States is vehemently opposed to member-state status for the Palestinians that doesn't stem from a peace deal with Israel.
But while Congress isn't mandated to cut U.S. aid, that doesn't mean it won't. Various senators are already proposing language to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut assistance to the Palestinians by 50% and U.S. fees to the United Nations by the same amount, should the effort by the Palestinians to gain recognition as a non-member observer state succeed in the General Assembly. It would also cut by 20% U.S. aid to any country voting to approve such a move. A larger group of senators proposed cutting off all funding if the vote goes through. FULL POST
By Jill Dougherty
For both President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the bid to broker a cease-fire in Gaza was high-profile, high-risk diplomacy.
“It’s a significant decision to send the secretary of state into an uncertain situation that puts American credibility and influence on the line,” a senior State Department official tells CNN. “I have the beginnings of ulcers to show that this was not a done deal when we left” for the Middle East.
Planning for Clinton’s possible “shuttle diplomacy” trip to the Middle East – cutting short a trip with Obama to Southeast Asia – began Sunday, the official says. When Clinton and her staff arrived in Thailand, they began conversations with the president’s senior staff. Did the potential benefits of going outweigh the risks?
Over lunch in Myanmar, Obama and Clinton discussed gaps between Egyptian and Israeli proposals for a cease-fire and how the U.S. might most effectively play a supporting role.
On Monday, the president called key players, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. By Tuesday, the decision had been made: Clinton would fly to the region. The staff began putting the wheels in motion for a mid-afternoon departure from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She would arrive in Israel at 10 p.m. local time and go directly to a meeting with Netanyahu.
By Jamie Crawford
Amid the flurry of diplomatic congratulations over the maneuvering that led to a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas this week, the dual readouts of the roles played by President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contained some interesting language.
A written statement detailing the telephone conversation between the two after an agreement was reached included the usual language of maintaining the U.S. commitment to Israeli security. But the White House also said that Obama "commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal – which the president recommended the prime minister to do."
Netanyahu's office released a statement that said he had "acceded" to Obama's recommendation to sign the deal and thanked the president for his support of Israel during the operation.
After a few years worth of headlines bemoaning the frosty relationship between the two, could a detente of sorts be in the offing? If so, would it give Obama additional leverage with Netanyahu as they move forward on even more complex problems like the Iranian nuclear crisis and the elusive search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
By Adam Levine
The relentless pace of the Israeli airstrike on Gaza gave the country's military time to make a significant dent in the offensive capability of Hamas, the Israeli military said.
Over the eight day conflict, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) looked to deplete some of the estimated 12,000 rockets Hamas has in its arsenal and destroy tunnels that are said to be used to smuggle weapons.
"We are very satisfied with the achievements that we have had in this operation," Israel Defense Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said on CNN's 'Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.'
The operation was not without human cost. Nearly 150 Palestinian and Israelis, though mostly Palestinians, were killed and many more were injured.
But the IDF said the operation allowed it to accomplish "its pre-determined objectives for Operation Pillar of Defense, and has inflicted severe damage to Hamas and its military capabilities," according to a media release sent soon after the cease-fire took effect on Wednesday.
The military gains were a factor in Israel agreeing to stop the airstrikes, according to the IDF.
"These operational achievements provided the underlying framework for this evening's cease-fire agreement," the IDF release said.
All eyes are on Israel's missile defense systems as the country's Iron Dome missiles have intercepted about 85 percent of the Hamas rockets fired at civilians.
CNN's Barbara Starr reports on why the violence may be sending cautionary signs to Iran and Hamas who will be looking for the system's potential weak spots.
By Jamie Crawford and Adam Levine
The Obama administration is stressing that the aim in talking to all parties is for a "de-escalation" of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. But while administration officials talk about trying to stop the fighting, they are assiduously avoiding using the term "cease-fire."
At a press conference Tuesday in Cambodia, National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said he was not refraining from using the term, but then he refrained from using the term:
REPORTER: Ben, you keep using the phrase “de-escalate the situation.” Are you avoiding using the word “cease-fire”?
RHODES: No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation. Again, what our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. So we’ll be discussing going forward, as we have been over the last several days, what are the various ways in which we can accomplish that goal.
At the State Department briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also emphasized de-escalation over cease-fire, saying there are many ways to lessen the violence: FULL POST
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is headed to the region in an attempt to help resolve the incessant violence.
Clinton left Cambodia late Tuesday for a trip to Israel, Ramallah and Egypt.
"She'll meet with regional leaders, beginning with our Israeli partners, to consult on the situation in Gaza," Deputy National Security Director Ben Rhodes said. Rhodes said Clinton will not be meeting with Hamas leaders but rather the Palestinian authority.
He said the visits will support the "de-escalation of the violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and restores broader calm in the region."
"Our bottom line is to end the rocket fire. We're open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal and discuss any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal but it's going to have to begin with reduction of tensions and, you know, space created for the situation to calm, " Rhodes said. "So, we'll be discussing going forward as we've been over the last several days, what are the various ways that we can accomplish that goal."
"She will emphasize the United States' interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional stability; that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza; and that can reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for
two states living in peace and security," according to a State Department statement. "She will continue to express U.S. concern for the loss of civilian life on both sides."
By Jill Dougherty
For the Obama administration, the watchword is "de-escalate." Stop the fighting, especially rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, then deal with longer-term issues.
But President Barack Obama, who continues to support Israel's right to defend itself while urging that the fighting cease, cannot do it on his own.
From Southeast Asia, where he is his first international trip since his re-election, Obama has talked several times by telephone with two of the central players: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling with him, has been even busier. She's been talking by phone with Israeli, Egyptian, Turkish, Qatari, and French officials, as well as with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, and then briefing the president on those conversations.
By Tim Lister and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy
Just after midnight on October 24, a series of loud explosions shook a neighborhood on the southern outskirts of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Within minutes, flames shooting skyward illuminated the area, and the Yarmouk Industrial Complex was consumed by fire.
Witnesses said they heard planes in the area, and a subsequent analysis of satellite images revealed six large craters "each approximately 16 meters [52 feet] wide ... and consistent with craters created by air-delivered munitions," according to the Satellite Sentinel Project, a non-governmental organization that analyzed DigitalGlobe imagery.
As the smoke cleared the next day, Sudanese officials blamed Israel for the airstrike, which destroyed a large part of the complex, including an ammunition plant and some 40 shipping containers.
The Satellite Sentinel Project said: "Nothing remains of the 60-meter [197-foot] building, which appears to have been pulverized in the blast."
By Barbara Starr
Three U.S. Navy amphibious warships are returning to the eastern Mediterranean to remain on standby in the event they are needed to assist Americans leaving Israel in the coming days, according to two U.S. officials.
The officials stressed an evacuation remains an extremely remote possibility and the Obama administration is not currently planning for one. Americans who wish to leave the region now are able to do so using commercial airlines.
But the decision to send the ships even if the event is such a remote contingency underscores the growing concern about where the Israel-Gaza conflict could be headed.
"This is due diligence. It is better to be prepared should there be a need," one official said Monday. Both officials said the ships would be used only for assisting Americans and not for any combat role.
The most immediate impact will be on the ships' crews and the estimated 2,500 Marines on board. They had been scheduled to return to Norfolk, Virginia, just after Thanksgiving; their homecoming will now be delayed several days depending on events, the officials said.
The ships involved are the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Gunston Hall. At the end of last week the ships were west of Gibraltar, before the decision was made to turn them around and send them back to the eastern Mediterranean, where they will remain for now.
The U.S. military also maintains three to four ships off the coast of Israel that are capable of shooting down ballistic missiles. That deployment has stretch for some months in the face of a potential ballistic threat from Iran.