Posts Tagged ‘Israelis’

Israelis Give Mike Mike Huckabee A Lesson in Gun Control and Security After Florida School Mass Shooting

February 16, 2018


The contributor to Fox News tweeted that ‘Israel pretty much eliminated’ shootings by training people to find ‘not the weapon, but a person with intent’

Arkansas Governor, and former presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee visits a settlement in east Jerusalem on August 17, 2009 as part of his tip to the Holy Land. Huckabees views on Israeli Policy Conflict with Presidents Obamas.
Arkansas Governor, and former presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee visits a settlement in east Jerusalem on August 17, 2009Maya Levin, Jini

Mike Huckabee, formerly the governor of Arkansas, got a lesson in Israeli gun laws Wednesday after claiming in a tweet that armed Israelis frequently put an end to attacks, following Florida high school shooting, in which at least 17 students were killed.

Huckabee, currently a contributor to Fox News and once rumored to have been appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweeted that he was “Just waking up in Israel to news of heartbreaking school shooting in FL; Reminded that Israel pretty much eliminated it by placing highly trained people strategically to spot the one common thread-not the weapon, but a person with intent. #PrayForParkland”

The school shooting in a community about 45 miles (72 km) north of Miami was the 18th in a U.S. school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, continuing a troubling pattern that has played out over the past few years. It was the second deadliest shooting in a U.S. public school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

Many, including a prominent Israeli commentator, took issue with Huckabee’s analysis, saying it isn’t tight security that protects Israel from mass shootings but laws that carefully control who can own and carry a gun, and when. Huckabee is a strict supporter of the right to bear arms.

skip – Alon Pinkas

“No Governor, Israel NEVER had such a problem,” responded Alon Pinkas, a former Consul General of Israel in New York. “We don’t worship guns, we don’t sell assault rifles to people, we don’t have a genius creation like the NRA, we don’t regard every bunch of guys a ‘well regulated militia’ and we’re pretty much done fighting the British.”

Lawyer and feminist Jill Filipovic referred Huckabee to an article about how Israel restricts gun ownership to those who can prove that their professions or places of residence put them in danger.

skip – Jill Filpoivic

“[I]f Huckabee is willing to make US gun laws look more like Israel’s then sure, sign me up,” she wrote.

As JTA’s Ben Sales reported in 2012, the ubiquity of gun-toting soldiers in Israel is deceptive: Once those soldiers finish their service, they are subject to civilian gun control regulations that are much stricter than American laws.

“Unlike in the United States, where the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution’s Second Amendment, Israel’s department of public security considers gun ownership a privilege, not a right. With few exceptions, gun owners in Israel are limited to owning one pistol, and must undergo extensive mental and physical tests before they can receive a weapon. Those who have not served in the military or in a government volunteer agency must wait until age 27 to apply for a firearms license. Gun owners are limited to 50 rounds of ammunition per year. West Bank settlers can obtain permits to carry guns for security purposes,” he wrote.

Requests for gun licenses in Israel do surge during times of heightened violence, and in 2015 Israel eased some of those restrictions to allow reserve officers and more residents to carry guns. But because gun ownership in Israel is considered a privilege, not a right, policymakers are able to adapt gun laws to public health and other policy concerns. To curb suicide rates among adolescent soldiers, in 2010 the military changed its policy and limited the conditions under which soldiers could take their guns home when on leave. Following the policy change, suicide rates decreased by 40 percent.

Israel is no stranger to mass violence, from suicide bombings to car rammings. In 1994, Baruch Goldstein opened fire on Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 29 people.

But Huckabee is almost right: Israelis kill each other with firearms at a small fraction of the rate of Americans, and licensed commercial security firms or highly trained civilians guard schools and field trips. But research, including a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says school and other mass shootings are rare in Israel because most people do not have access to the kinds of arsenals readily available in the United States.


Trump Again Says Jerusalem Is Off The Negotiating Table

February 12, 2018

Al Jazeera

Trump: Jerusalem is off negotiation table

Trump announced his decision to move US embassy to Jerusalem on December 6 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu]


US President Donald Trump has reiterated that the issue of Jerusalem is off the negotiating table after his decision to declare the city as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv.

“By taking Jerusalem off the table I wanted to make it clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and as for specific boundaries, I would support what both sides agreed to,” Trump told newspaper Israel Hayom on Sunday.

Trump’s comments echoed those he made during his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month.

“They never got past Jerusalem. We took it off the table. We don’t have to talk about it anymore,” Trump told reporters.

Breaking with years of US policy, Trump announced the move on December 6, drawing international condemnation and sparking a wave of heated protests around the world.


Trump’s Jerusalem move reignites Palestinian cause

A resounding majority of United Nations member states declared Trump’s move as “null and void” in a non-binding resolution.

The status of Jerusalem, which is home to holy religious sites and has particular significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews, has long remained a sensitive topic and one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

In the exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, Trump also urged both Israel and Palestine to make “hard compromises” to reach a peace agreement, as he warned against Israeli settlements.

In a rare criticism of the Israeli leadership, the US president questioned Israel’s commitment to making peace with the Palestinians.

“Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace, they are not looking to make peace,” he told the Hayom, which is owned by American billionaire and Trump backer Sheldon Adelson.

“And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace,” the Republican president added.

‘Careful with settlements’

Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 and proceeded to effectively annex it, in breach of international law.

The Palestinian leadership in the occupied West Bank, however, see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Today, 86 percent of East Jerusalem is under the direct control of the Israeli authorities and Jewish settlers.

Trump warned Netanyahu’s government against Israeli settlements getting in the way of negotiations.

“The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements,” he said.

Between 600,000 and 750,000 Israelis live in sizeable settlements, beyond the internationally recognised borders of their state.

Phyllis Bennis, author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, doubts Trump’s comments represent a policy shift by the US.

“I think what we are seeing here is not the end of the US role as an honest broker because it never was an honest broker,” she told Al Jazeera. “This [his comments] is simply a clearer acknowledgment of that reality.”

“President Trump has made it clear that he is more officially and formally pro-Israel than another recent president,” added Bennis, who is also a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Is the US undermining the Middle East peace process?


Trump may present peace plan even if Palestinians won’t negotiate — “Peace will not be achieved by walking away”

February 2, 2018

Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 10 news


The White House is considering presenting President Trump’s Middle East peace plan even if the crisis with the Palestinian Authority continues and Palestinian President Abbas refuses to come to the negotiating table, senior U.S. officials tell me.

The bottom line: The U.S. officials say the administration won’t impose on the Israelis or Palestinians to accept the plan, but may release it so the parties and international community can judge it at face value.

The officials said no decisions were made yet in this regard but stressed the president and his “peace team” are not ruling out this option.

One senior U.S. official told me:

“Since it’s not done, we haven’t decided yet how we are going to put it forward and what happens if one of the sides isn’t ready to come to the table. We are not there yet. But we are very optimistic that all relevant countries who want to support a peace agreement between the two sides are still waiting for our plan, want to work with us and realize we cannot be replaced. Despite all of the false reports about our plan, we are confident it will be beneficial to both sides and both peoples.”

The current standoff

After Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on December 6th, Abbas announced he would cut ties with the U.S. over the peace process. The Palestinians also boycotted Vice President Pence’s visit in the region.

  • Abbas claimed Trump is not an honest broker and called his peace plan “the slap of the century”.
  • Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he will react to the Trump plan after he sees it but stressed he is ready to renew peace talks.

The latest developments…

  • U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt held a series of meetings with Netanyahu, his advisers and several ministers over the last two weeks. Greenblatt also met with opposition leader Hertzog and briefed EU member states representatives in Tel-Aviv and East Jerusalem. He did not meet with any Palestinian officials but met with Palestinian students and private sector executives.
  • On Wednesday, Greenblatt participated in an emergency meeting of the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. The meeting focused on the crisis in the peace process and on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also participated in the meeting. It was the first time senior Palestinian and U.S. officials were around the same table since the Jerusalem announcement. Greenblatt and Hamdallah shook hands but didn’t hold a meeting.
  • In his speech during the plenary meeting, Greenblatt referred to Hamdallah and said he hopes that the fact he is participating shows the Palestinians are still committed to the efforts to renew the peace process. Greenblatt also said President Trump’s announcement was just a recognition of reality and the connection of Israel and the Jewish people to Jerusalem. Greenblatt also said in his speech: “Did the President’s decision prejudge any final status issues? No. We have not taken a position on borders”.
  • Greenblatt stressed that the Trump administration continues drafting its peace plan and called on the Palestinians to return to the peace talks: “Peace will not be achieved by walking away from negotiations. It is easy to walk away from the table. But that helps no one, and it reduces or perhaps eliminates the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. And that would be terrible for the Palestinian people”.


UN envoy warns Gaza facing ‘full collapse’

January 30, 2018
© AFP/File | Gaza, battered since 2008 by three wars between Israel and Palestinian militants, suffers from shattered infrastructure, a strict Israeli blockade and massive unemployment
TEL AVIV (AFP) – A senior United Nations official on Tuesday warned the Palestinian coastal enclave of the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse”.UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov said a key to saving Gaza from disaster was restoring the government of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to power there, a decade after it was forced out by the militant Islamist movement Hamas.

“Without that Gaza risks exploding in our face again, this time in a far more deadly and violent manner than in the past,” Mladenov said at the annual conference of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Gaza, battered since 2008 by three wars between Israel and Palestinian militants, suffers from shattered infrastructure, a strict Israeli blockade and massive unemployment.

Earlier this month, the White House froze tens of millions of dollars in contributions to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

“I often say publicly, in (UN) Security Council briefings and in other formats, that we are in the midst of a major humanitarian crisis,” Mladenov said.

“Let me be very clear today here, that we’re well beyond that,” he added.

“We’re on the verge of a total systems failure in Gaza, with a full collapse of the economy, with social services, political, humanitarian and security implications stemming from that.”

Mladenov said he would raise those concerns in Brussels on Wednesday at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates international donor support for the Palestinians.

He said the meeting would be at a high level with representatives of the Israelis, Palestinians and “a number” of Arab foreign ministers attending.

Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah will take part, a Palestinian Authority statement said.

“One of our key messages must really be: what can we actually do to create and preserve hope for the people of Gaza, in order to address both the militant aspect of it and the humanitarian aspect?” Mladenov said.

Israeli settlers storm Al-Aqsa Mosque: Saudi state news agency

January 30, 2018

A general view of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City in Al-Aqsa mosque compound. (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)
DUBAI: Groups of Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem early Tuesday morning, Saudi Arabian state news agency reported citing a Palestinian source.
The General Director of the Islamic Awqaf and Al-Aqsa Affairs, Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, said today’s raid by the Jewish settlers was carried through Al-Magharebah Gate and under heavy protection of Israeli special forces and police.
Al-Khatib added that the settlers toured the Al-Aqsa yards in provocation.

The Alarming Reason Israeli and Palestinian Activists Are Growing Closer

January 27, 2018



Israeli freedom of speech is being called into question, and that’s pretty ironic

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

What’s the exact measure of “Israeli democracy” these days? For that, it’s helpful to get a reading through the lens of a Palestinian.

Mai Da’na lives in Hebron. Late on a winter’s night in February 2015, Israeli soldiers entered her home. For Palestinians in the West Bank, this is an everyday part of life: As the Order Regarding Security Provisions stipulates, “An officer or a soldier is authorized to enter, at any time, any place” No search warrant is required, no legal standards such as “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” are even relevant.

In occupied Palestine, Giorgio Agamben’s constant state of exception is not philosophy: It is reality. In fact, this reality has been going on for 50 years, almost double 26-year-old Da’na’s lifetime. To fully grasp its meaning, one need only watch the video she took that night, when soldiers barged into her home, demanding that her young children be awakened.

Unlike Da’na, I am a Jewish, Israeli citizen. I live in West Jerusalem. My situation is very different, in the million ways in which the lives of subjects and the lives of masters diverge. And yet, our spaces are interconnected.

In recent years, Da’na began volunteering with B’Tselem’s Camera Project. Women videographers have consistently distinguished themselves among the 200 or so volunteers in this citizen journalism project, which aims to depict the reality of the occupation. So, it was no wonder that, in August 2017, when the project marked its 10th anniversary, B’Tselem decided to present at the Jerusalem Cinematheque a program entitled “Palestinian Women, From the First Intifada Until Today,” featuring footage entirely shot by women – including the video by Mai Da’na.

Screening the reality of life on one side of the Green Line on the other side of that line is easy enough. But what crossed the line through that screening was much more than only those images from Hebron and other West Bank locations. Following that evening, the Israeli Ministry of Culture very publicly wrote the Ministry of Finance, demanding that funding for the Jerusalem Cinematheque be re-examined in light of its screening of films by B’Tselem volunteers. The legal basis for such a demand was codified by the Knesset back in 2011, in the shape of the “Budget Foundations Law (Amendment 40): Reducing Budget or Support for Activity Contrary to the Principles of the State.”

In recent months, Culture Minister Miri Regev has been waging a campaign against artists, screenwriters, theaters – and yes, cinemas – that dare to go ahead with events, plays or films that “incite against Israel.” According to Regev, showing the truth about Israel’s rule over Palestinians is incitement.” She wishes to exercise what she calls, in true Orwellian fashion, “freedom of funding”: the liberty not to fund artistic speech that deals with that constant state of exception in effect just a few kilometers away from the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Non-options, non-citizens

Citizens – especially Jewish citizens – living on the Israeli side of the Green Line are generally used to exercising their free speech rights. But in occupied Palestine, free speech has been a non-option ever since August 1967, two months after the occupation began, when Order No. 101 was issued. Its point of departure is that Palestinian residents have no inherent freedom of protest or freedom of expression, and that even nonviolent resistance and civil protest involving peaceful assembly are forbidden. For 50 years, we have been defining almost any Palestinian opposition to the occupation regime as incitement, while denying basic human freedoms as free speech. Is anyone really surprised that the screening of a video collection focusing on the occupation is now framed as – of course – incitement, and that the freedom of speech of Israelis is being called into question? One cannot deny the irony in this process, which brings Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and activists closer: not because the civil space is widening in occupied Palestine, but because it is shrinking in occupying Israel.

Of course, for the millions of Palestinian non-citizens, with no political rights, whom we have been ruling by military decrees for decades, democratic space collapsed long ago. The casual vulnerability of Palestinian homes is just one example of how fragile life can be, in a place where Israel controls with impunity through arbitrary administrative decisions people’s ability to travel abroad, receive a work permit, get married, access their land, build a home – to name just a few examples.

And what of life in Israel? Equating NGOs that oppose the occupation with treasonous servants of suspect foreign powers has become routine, from the prime minister down. In this current reality, an ongoing blend of intimidation, infiltration and legislation is the new normal. The need to maintain the appearance of democratic norms has now been mostly set aside, replaced by a political appetite to demonstrate to a cheering public that the government is after the fifth column.

The efforts led by the culture minister are only a few of many like-minded initiatives. Together, these spell out the shrinking of space for free speech and for civil society. It is a process that took place mostly in the last seven years, moving forward parallel to similar downward spirals in places like Hungary, India and Turkey. The rising authoritarianism in Jerusalem can be spotted even from as far as Berlin: In June 2017 a spokesperson for the German Foreign Affairs Ministry said of Hungary that it has joined “the ranks of countries like Russia, China and Israel, which obviously regard the funding of NGOs, of civil society efforts, by donors from abroad as a hostile or at least an unfriendly act.” A few months later, Israel had the dubious honor of being featured in the UN secretary-general’s annual report on “Cooperation with the United Nations, Its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of authoritarianism ,” known informally as the “reprisals report.”

Funding cuts

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

Of all the efforts made to act against human rights NGOs, the most steadfast one has been to try and curtail access to international funding. But the government cannot simply pass a law to which an addendum with the list of undesirable groups will be attached – that would be too blunt. It took several years and a few legislative iterations, until an administrative criterion that would apply almost exclusively to the, well, undesirables was identified: groups with a relatively high percentage of “foreign state-entity funding.” As foreign governments quite obviously are more likely to invest in promotion of human rights than in the advancement of the occupation, by looking at an NGO’s relative funding from such sources, one can assemble a de-facto list of the NGOs the government is after, without having to resort to listing them individually.

The above logic was at the core of the 2016 amendment to the Law Requiring Disclosure by NGOs Supported by Foreign State Entities, which stipulates that groups receiving 50 percent or more of their funding from “foreign state-entity” sources will practically need to identity themselves as foreign agent NGOs. The amendment was initially marketed as “advancing transparency.” Yet that was never the real issue, as NGOs were already required by law to make a public annual report of all donations they received of 20,000 shekels (about $5,900) and above. Moreover, since 2011, non-profit organizations are required to file quarterly reports of all donations from foreign state-entity sources. At all events, since the law was passed, it has served as the staging ground for further legislation, completely removed from “transparency,” but rather quite transparently about yet more public shaming and administrative limitations and burdens on human rights NGOs.

The amendment does not prevent receipt of foreign funding. However, in June 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly confirmed that he had tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with formulating a new bill that would block foreign governmental funding to nonprofits, in an effort explicitly targeting human rights groups opposing the occupation. Minister Levin explained to Haaretz the change in the government’s position, from promoting a bill that did not limit foreign governmental funding to seeking legislation that would block it. He explained that the new U.S. administration has made it possible: “It wouldn’t have made it through in the period of the Obama administration. They were very uneasy about the bill. The present administration has no problem with it.”

Crossing the line

Palestinians cannot easily cross the Green Line and enter Israel: special permits are needed. Authoritarian thinking, however, needs no such permit, a green light from the powers that matter will suffice. Similarly, the winds blowing from Washington appear to be felt on both sides of the Green Line. A few weeks after Levin’s interview, it was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who used almost identical language – but now in the context of actions on the other side of the Green Line, namely, the possibility of going ahead with the demolition of entire Palestinian villages – Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, and Sussia in the South Hebron Hills.

Mai Da’na’s footage also crossed the Green Line. Its modest screening in Jerusalem to an audience of 100 or so viewers was sufficient to trigger a McCarthy-style governmental review of one of Israel’s most established cultural institutions. For, to enable further oppression of Palestinians, stronger silencing of Israelis is now deemed necessary. Our fates are intertwined.

Similarly, the international mechanisms that somewhat delayed these developments are intertwined. Not only are many international actors used to taking their cue from Washington – now under Trump – but Israel’s leadership is also currently empowered by the favorable winds blowing from the rising authoritarian powers across the globe.

As rightfully worrying as these negative developments inside Israel are, they are not the reasons why the country cannot be considered a democracy. For that, we need not focus on recent years, but open our eyes to the past half century. Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians with no political rights has been in effect for all but the first 19 years of Israel’s existence as an independent state. That is why Israel is not a democracy, and indeed has not been one for many a decade. We live in a one-state reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state whose constant state of exception is one of masters and subjects, of millions with political rights – and millions without.

Yet, here is what I genuinely embrace: Yes, the authoritarian global realignment is real. If you have any doubts, just listen to Netanyahu, Trump, Modi, Orbán, and the many others contending to join their ranks. But it is not preordained that this will be the only global realignment witnessed by humanity in the 21st century. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is too precious an achievement, won after unimaginable human suffering. We know what is at stake. We might as well stand together so that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are realized, so that “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” is rock solid. There are no assurances of success: only the certainty that it is a future worth fighting for.

Hagai El-Ad is executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This piece originally appeared in a longer version in “Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learning from and for activists,” a special edition of the Sur International Journal on Human Rights.

America’s ‘ultimate deal’ for Middle East peace may still fail

January 23, 2018
There has been much speculation over President Donald Trump’s plan to reach an “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians and, until Dec. 6, when the US president announced his infamous decision with regard to Jerusalem, the Palestinian leadership was cautiously optimistic over its prospects. But the Jerusalem declaration dashed all hopes and gave the Palestinians, as well as all Arabs, a reality check on where the US administration stands with regard to the classical two-state solution, previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and pertinent UN resolutions on the issues.
And, if we are to believe the leaked report that Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat submitted to the Palestinian Central Council last week, then we now have a first look at the main parameters of the proposed peace plan to be unveiled by the White House in the coming few weeks or months.
The parameters include defining Palestine as a “state minus”, whatever that term means. They also propose giving Israel security control over the Palestinian entity, which is another vague term that could be interpreted to mean an open-ended occupation.
Other parameters make it clear Israel will maintain a permanent presence along the Jordan River, the future of Jerusalem will be determined by the parties and there will be land swaps but not based on the 1967 lines. It is also proposed there will be no settlement evacuation, and that the refugee problem will have a “just solution.”

These are the alleged broad settings that the US peace plan will be based on. And they can only mean one thing: The White House has “borrowed” these terms and conditions from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s playbook on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. In effect, the proposed plan does away with the Oslo agreement and with all previous US positions and commitments, in addition to sidelining UN resolutions and associated international laws on the issue.

With the US’ unilateral decision on Jerusalem in mind and with the latest US move to slash aid to UNRWA still fresh, the above parameters appear to be in sync with the perceptions and convictions of the US administration. As much as the proposed plan gives zero attention to Palestinian rights, which happen to be in line with international law, UN resolutions and the position of the vast majority of countries, it would be foolish to assume that the US can simply force such a humiliating settlement on the Palestinians.
But what is likely to happen is this: The US will present its plan — barring a sudden change in calculations in the White House — and the Palestinians will reject it immediately. Israel will embrace it, with the usual reservations, and will kick-start a series of unilateral moves to implement major portions of the plan. This will include annexing the settlements and imposing military rule over East Jerusalem in order to justify steps to hasten the forced transfer of its Palestinian residents and embark on plans to evict them from villages along the Jordan Valley.
Illegal as all these steps are, Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners will go even further by passing laws that annex major chunks of the West Bank, while underlining the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. Meanwhile, the US will try to tempt the Palestinians to accept or re-engage in return for substantial aid packages.


While leaked parameters will lead to a scenario that is depressing and infuriating, it is unlikely Israel’s unilateral actions and America’s blind support will be accepted by the Palestinians or the international community.

​Osama Al Sharif

But, as much as this scenario is depressing and infuriating, it does not mean that Israel’s unilateral actions and America’s blind support will be accepted by the Palestinians or the world community. All the plan will do is make the Palestinian cause a top priority among all of the world’s major crises. It will deepen US isolation on this matter and will trigger violent reactions by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It will likely entice European, Asian, Latin American and African countries to recognize the state of Palestine; albeit a state under occupation.

The Palestinian leadership has been cautioned by close Arab allies and European friends not to adopt radical stands — such as rejecting US mediation and withdrawing recognition of Israel — at least until the White House unveils its proposed peace plan. The idea being that quiet behind-the-scenes diplomatic engagement can influence the US and alter its position. International rejection, including by America’s closest allies, of Trump’s unilateral move on Jerusalem has rattled the US administration and may force it to review its stand.
More importantly, perhaps, the crisis over Jerusalem has done a lot of damage to US credibility in the region, and has dampened support for Trump’s mediation efforts. It would be reckless for the US administration not to look back and take world and regional reactions into account. But, if the US ignores its allies and pushes ahead, thus ending all realistic prospects of a two-state solution, then the Palestinians can still derail such plans by changing their strategy and embracing the one-state option and upending Israeli schemes.
Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Middle East Christians Shunned Pence, but U.S. Supporters Are Thrilled With His Israel Trip

January 23, 2018

The U.S. vice president’s Middle East trip was originally meant to draw attention to the plight of the region’s Christians, but since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, they want nothing to do with him

Palestinians take part in a protest against the visit of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Israel, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem January 21, 2018.
Palestinians take part in a protest against the visit of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Israel, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem January 21, 2018. \ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/REUTERS

When the White House first announced that Vice President Mike Pence would visit the Middle East in October, the trip was to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the region, and aim at securing their rights. Instead, Pence will complete his visit on Tuesday without holding a single meeting with a prominent Christian leader from any of the three countries he had visited –  Egypt, Jordan and Israel.

Christian leaders in Egypt and Jerusalem decided to boycott his visit in protest over the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Palestinian Authority, which was originally part of Pence’s itinerary, declared that he was ” unwelcome in Palestine,” leading to the cancellation of his visit to the holy city of Bethlehem.

Pence’s office briefed the journalists traveling with him that he raised the issue of protecting Egypt’s Christian population in his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi on Saturday. That was, at least publicly, the only mention of the issue of Christians in the Middle East during a visit that originally was presented as focusing on their fate.

What Pence’s visit in Israel definitely has achieved, however, is praise from Christian leaders and politicians in the United States, who consider themselves strong supporters of Israel. Many of those leaders and politicians are also strong supporters of the Trump administration, at least partly due to its policy alignment with the current right-wing government in Israel.

Rev. Tony Suarez, an evangelical pastor and a member of a group of evangelical leaders who advise President Trump on religious and policy issues, told Haaretz on Tuesday that “Vice president Pence’s trip to Israel reinforces what we have seen time and again from this administration – that the United States is a strong ally to Israel and that we love not only the people, but also the land of Israel.”

Suarez added that “as evangelicals, we believe that this administration is honoring our faith by giving such support and importance to our ally Israel. We are grateful for that.” Among America’s religious groups, evangelicals offered the most support to Trump’s 2016 election bid.

Based on his own past visits to Israel, Suarez said that “I can only imagine how special this visit must by for the vice president in terms of his personal faith. I know he’s visited Israel before, but every time you are there, the bible comes alive to you. Your faith comes alive. You’re seeing places that we can usually only envision or illustrate. You become very close to your faith when you are in Israel, and I’m sure that for the vice president, his faith will come alive in a new way during this trip.”

Pence gave a speech filled with religious symbolism before the Knesset on Tuesday, quoting from the bible multiple times, and explaining his support for Israel not just in political and security-oriented terms, but also in moral and religious ones. Rev. Suarez told Haaretz that “I think it demonstrates how important his faith is to him and how it is connected to his strong support for Israel. You can see it in his speeches, in his writings; he is a man of great faith.” 

Pence’s speech received similar praise from Alan Clemmons, a conservative Republican state representative from South Carolina, who is a strong advocate for Israel and its settlements in the West Bank. “Vice president Pence and president Trump cannot be thanked enough for their support and service of the U.S.-Israel Relationship,” Clemmons told Haaretz shortly after watching Pence’s speech.

“Those who know our vice president are aware that his personal love of Israel has in turn made support for the Jewish State one of his highest public service priorities. One could not help but feel that the speech he gave at the Knesset today was the culmination of decades of personal and professional effort,” he added.

Clemmons, who is a member of the Mormon church, said that the Trump administration’s policies highlight the “anti-Israel” nature of the previous administration. “Those who love Israel are thanking God for this day,” he added.

Joel Rosenberg, an Evangelical author and activist who lives in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that “most American evangelicals will be very happy with this speech. He expressed very strong support for Israel.” Rosenberg, who attended Pence’s speech in the Knesset, added that “the vice president used more scripture and allusions to the bible that any speech by a foreign leader that I can recall. He did it in a very respectful way.”

Rosenberg cautioned, however, that not all evangelicals in the United States and around the world share the same views regarding the Trump administration’s approach to the Middle East peace process. “Some Evangelicals ask how the timing of the Jerusalem decision served the purpose of reaching a peace deal,” he said. “Did the vice president’s speech make things easier today for the leaders of Jordan and Egypt, who both told him about some hardships caused by the Jerusalem decision? Probably not.”

Offering a broader view of the region, Rosenberg said that “the Trump administration is trying to fix some of the damages caused by the Obama administration, which created total disaster. But if their goal is to unite Israel and the Arabs against Iran, which is the biggest threat in the region, then they should think twice about things that can potentially unite the Muslim world against Israel.”

Hamas Approaches Endgame in Gaza as Israel Sharpens Its Tunnel-elimination Prowess

January 14, 2018

Either way, Israel will keep building an anti-tunnel barrier along the Gaza border while looking for and destroying passages that have already been dug

By Amos Harel Jan 14, 2018 4:27 PM

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017.

An Israeli jeep drives near where Israeli forces said they had destroyed an attack tunnel from Gaza, December 10, 2017. Amir Cohen

The destruction of the Hamas tunnel on the Gaza border Saturday night supports the conclusion that Israel has found a defense against the threat of attack tunnels under the Strip. Even if the defense isn’t perfect, it’s pretty effective. The tunnel that was identified and blown up over the weekend near the Kerem Shalom crossing, near where Egypt, Israel and Gaza meet, is reportedly the fourth to be found by Israel since October.

The latest tunnel demolition worsens Hamas’ dilemma on how it should act as Israel gradually deprives it of one of its main offensive assets. The finding of the latest tunnel isn’t directly related to the barrier that Israel has been putting up along the Gaza border. Saturday’s tunnel was found in an area where work on the barrier hasn’t yet begun.

But the combination of technology, intelligence and operational means, along with the planned completion of most of the security barrier by year-end, show that the clock is ticking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. (The first tunnel destroyed belonged to the smaller Islamic Jihad.) As Hamas leaders’ would view them, the tunnels are a strategic project in which hundreds of millions of shekels have been invested over nearly a decade, involving thousands of laborers and fighters. And now all this may be going down the drain.


At this point, Hamas hasn’t responded clearly to Israel’s steps. Also, Hamas members haven’t been directly involved in the firing of rockets from Gaza at the Negev, some of which have been launched by Salafi groups and some by Islamic Jihad.

Hamas’ decision not to respond to the destruction of the tunnels also apparently reflects the trap the organization finds itself in. It’s having a hard time seeing to the economic needs of the 2 million Gazans, it has a poor relationship with Egypt, and implementation of the Hamas-Palestinian Authority reconciliation agreement is sputtering.

This time the embarrassment is even greater because Israel has announced that some of the latest tunnel was under Egyptian territory.

And the consequences for Hamas are greater than usual. Not only has the group’s planned offensive activity under the border and under the Kerem Shalom crossing — the main goods crossing into the Strip no less, along with pipelines supplying natural gas and diesel — been uncovered. This time the tunnel reflects an intrusion into the sovereignty of Egypt, which Hamas is greatly dependent on in its efforts to improve conditions in Gaza.

One can assume that the Israeli army is also prepared for a possible attack by a Palestinian group through a tunnel before other tunnels are discovered and destroyed.

Regarding the latest tunnel, Hamas claimed that the air force had bombed a “civilian” tunnel that had been used for smuggling goods, rather than a Hamas tunnel. In Israel, officials insisted that the tunnel had been dug with the help of Hamas’ elite Nukhba unit, and that the tunnel had a branch under the border crossing — evidence of plans for a terror attack inside Israel.

Israel’s excavations toward the Egyptian border may uncover plans to smuggle weapons from Sinai into Gaza or to get terrorists out of Gaza — if necessary to have them reinforce an attack on the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Egyptian side of the border. For years the Palestinian groups have viewed the crossings as legitimate and even desirable targets for terror attacks, despite the possible negative effects for Gazans. There is also a history of suicide bombings and the use of tunnels against the Erez, Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings between Gaza and Israel dating back a decade.

The stepped-up pace of Israeli army activity regarding Gaza is evidence of the efforts to deal with the tunnels, efforts that are far from over. In any event, Israel’s priorities in Gaza are clear. The main effort is building a barrier along the border to counter the tunnels, while looking for and destroying tunnels that have already been dug.

In addition to concerns about a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, dealing with the tunnels is another constraint in Israel’s considerations over whether to get into another large confrontation with Hamas in Gaza. Depriving Hamas of the offensive weapon of the tunnels is such a priority that Israel’s leaders are willing to show relative restraint over rocket fire from Gaza, as long as there are no casualties on the Israeli side.

This also comes against the backdrop, according to foreign reports, of Israeli operations against Iran and Hezbollah in Syria. In the north, this effort involves going right to the edge, with a relatively high risk of an outbreak of hostilities. Israel must therefore be cautious in calculating its moves so it can keep chalking up successes and avoid a conflagration on both fronts.

Amos Harel
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UN urges Israel to scrap African migrant relocation plan

January 9, 2018

Tens of thousands of migrants, most from Eritrea and Sudan, have come to Israel in recent years. (AFP)

GENEVA: The United Nations has called on Israel to scrap a new program forcing thousands of African migrants out of the country, condemning it as incoherent and unsafe.

The program is targeting an estimated 38,000 people, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan.
Israel has offered them $3,500 and a plane ticket if they leave by March, warning they may face arrest after the deadline.
The plan was widely criticized when first unveiled last year, but the UN refugee agency sounded a fresh alarm after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last week that the program had begun.
“UNHCR is again appealing to Israel to halt its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa,” the agency said in a statement.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told reporters in Geneva that the program was not “coherent” and “has been implemented not in a very transparent manner.”
Israel has not clearly said where the migrants will go, but tacitly recognizes it is too dangerous to return the Sudanese and Eritreans home.
As a result, according to activists in Israel, it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing migrants on condition they consent to the arrangement.
Uganda has publicly denied any such deal. Rwanda has also dismissed its involvement, according to the UN.
Spindler said the fact that the purported host countries were denying their role made it impossible for the UN to follow up.
UNHCR said it had spoken to 80 people who were flown with the $3,500 to Rwanda before heading north, traveling to Rome through conflict zones in South Sudan, Sudan and Libya.
“Along the way they suffered abuse, torture and extortion before risking their lives once again by crossing the Mediterranean to Italy,” UNHCR said in a statement, explaining that its staff interviewed the migrants in Rome.
Spindler called on Israel to find alternative solutions to the problem, stressing that the UN was ready to help with formal resettlement through official channels.