Tuesday’s Headlines: Biden Visits Israel; 62% Turnout in Iraqi Elections

BY jbreslow  March 9, 2010 at 9:02 AM EST

Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
–Vice President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prior to their meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday. Photo by David Furst/AFP/Getty Images.

On a mission to restart stalled peace talks in the Middle East, Vice President Joe Biden met with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on Tuesday and said America’s commitment to the Jewish state was “unshakeable.”

As part of a five-day swing through the region, Biden also called on Israel to focus on containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions through sanctions, rather than military force.

But it was the peace process that dominated the vice president’s agenda Tuesday. Biden is the most senior Obama administration official to visit Israel, and in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he said a “moment of real opportunity” for peace exists between Israel and the Palestinians.

That opportunity was jump-started Monday, after President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, announced both sides had agreed to let the United States broker indirect negotiations, the first of any such talks in more than a year.

After more than a year of criticism, the latest round of talks “may be Mitchell’s moment,” says Politico. “Mitchell finally has something to show for his efforts, succeeding both in convincing the Palestinians to at least talk about final status negotiations, and calling Netanyahu’s bluff on his oft-declared position that he is ready to ‘talk anywhere, anytime, no preconditions.’”

As always, the crux of negotiations will center around issues that have plagued both sides for generations, including Jewish settlements, the status of Jerusalem and what shape any potential Palestinian state might take, among others. However, for any talks to succeed, both sides must concentrate on “economic peace,” writes Hebrew University’s Bernard Avishai at Foreign Policy’s new blog, the Middle East Channel. Avishai writes:

“Everybody knows the core issues between Israelis and Palestinians, except for the one that will matter the most and can be acted on immediately, before any comprehensive deal; the one where Israel’s concessions will not compromise its security but enhance it. I am speaking of Palestine’s economy, specifically, its private sector, the driver of civil society and spine of any future state.”

Regardless of the focus of negotiations, “It is hard to find anyone who thinks success is very likely,” according to BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy. “Israel believes it is strong enough to resist pressure to compromise — and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fears any major concession will undermine his already weak position.”

Writing for the Atlantic, Erik Tarloff says the problem with talks is that “the debate is rarely defined or conducted by fair-minded persons. The enemies of both sides — and even worse, the advocates for both sides — have big, bloody axes to grind.”

62% Turnout in Iraqi Election

In Iraq, election officials have confirmed that turnout in Sunday’s parliamentary elections reached 62 percent.

And while insurgent attacks killed at least 38 people across the nation, the relatively low level of violence over the weekend was “indisputable” evidence that Iraqi security forces are having some success in the fight against insurgents, the Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf told the NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill Monday evening. “I think the real question is, are they having enough of a success?” Arraf said.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will discuss the security situation there and what effect, if any, Sunday’s vote will have on the U.S. withdrawal.