Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Netanyahu Blasts Abbas Speech: He Revealed Truth About Conflict and Did Israel a Service

January 15, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Speaking to reporters while visiting India, Netanyahu says he supports economic relief for Gaza; on Iran, the prime minister warns West: Last chance to fix nuclear deal

By Noa Landau (New Delhi) 15.01.2018 16:30 Updated: 5:51 PM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018 PRAKASH SINGH/AFP

NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments that Israel killed the Oslo accords by saying that his remarks did Israel a service. Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli journalists in his entourage during his visit to India, also said that he supports economic relief for the Gaza Strip.

However, Netanyahu added that the main problem in the enclave was “the failure of Gaza itself to take care of the basic infrastructure that people need, such as electricity, water and housing. That’s our problem. When they talk about collapse, that’s the infrastructure they mean. It is an absurd situation that the State of Israel has to handle the most basic needs of life, which are neglected by the Hamas government.”

Netanyahu’s comments follow the publication of a report in Haaretz Monday that quoted army officials as saying that the Strip is on the brink of economic collapse.

The prime minister also warned the West that it was the last chance to fix the nuclear deal with Iran.

Regarding the escalation on the border with Gaza, he said that Israel’s actions are guided by its security interests, and that Israel holds Hamas responsible for every attack. “The Israel Defense Forces does not bomb sand dunes,” he added.

Netanyahu looked tired. Aside from the hectic schedule of the official visit, he has taken part in a number of nighttime votes and debates in recent weeks. He also had to contend with negative reports about his son Yair, who was supposed to come on the trip but ultimately remained in Jerusalem.  At the start of the meeting with reporters, the premier asked for coffee, blaming jet lag.

‘What we have been saying all along’

Reacting to Abbas’ speech Sunday night, Netanyahu said that the Palestinian prime minister had exposed “what we have been saying all along, that the roots of the conflict are opposition to a Jewish state within any borders it might have. Not only the way he spoke but the things he said help us show the truth,” Netanyahu said. “I think this serves our political goals more than anything else.”

>> Abbas declares Oslo Accords dead: ‘Trump’s peace plan is a slap, we’ll slap back’ <<

Israel can now fairly make the “elementary, logical demand” that the Palestinian leader change his position, or there will be no peace, Netanyahu said. Abbas did truth a service, and Israeli diplomacy too, the prime minister added – possibly because the Palestinian president is worried that the Americans will come out with a new initiative, and would prefer that they were replaced in their role as mediators.

“But there is nobody else,” Netanyahu said: Abbas’ efforts to get them removed from that role won’t work. “For too long, the Palestinian Authority has been pampered by the international community, which didn’t dare tell them the truth – not about Jerusalem and not about recognizing Israel. That has changed. I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] was reacting to that. This is the first time somebody’s told him the truth to his face.”

‘Last chance to fix the Iran deal’

At the meeting with reporters during the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, he reviewed the trip so far and took questions. The prime minister began his remarks by underscoring the “vast importance” that the visit has for security.

Asked about reports that he’s trying to persuade India to reinstate a canceled sale of antitank missiles from the Israeli company Rafael, which was worth half a billion dollars, the prime minister said, “we’re working on it.” On security issues, Netanyahu said that he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the Iranian threat.

“We have spent many hours together and much of that conversation focused on Iran, the danger it poses and the aspiration for hegemony over the Muslim world and Muslims everywhere,” Netanyahu said.

Asked about the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest statement that he will quit the deal unless it is “fixed,” Netanyahu said, “I think it’s the West’s last opportunity to fix the agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that he meant to say “it looks like the last opportunity.”

Netanyahu said he has counseled European leaders to take Trump’s words seriously. “Some thought he would never retreat from this agreement. I told them I suggest they treat [him] with respect and seriousness. After what he said on Friday, I think people are starting to get it, perhaps belatedly, that this is how it is.”

Referring to his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu said, “He told me, ‘I agree on the ballistic missiles, the terrorism, Iran’s aggression. But I don’t agree with you about the agreement.’ I told him, if we don’t change it, the agreement will double Iran’s aggression in the region and its ability to threaten France with missiles. They will achieve a nuclear arsenal. If the agreement isn’t changed, that’s what will be.”

“That is why Trump’s position is correct,” Netanyahu said, adding that he’s been preaching to that effect for some time. “He told me that he understand the superpowers have an opportunity here, I think the last one, to fix the agreement. I think the president is deadly serious that if the agreement isn’t changed, he will make the inescapable decision. The main thing is to make changes that prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear arsenal without hindrance. I think this is the Western countries’ last chance to fix the agreement.”

‘Tehran to Kfar Sava’

Speaking about an Iranian land corridor, Netanyahu said that nobody can stop a truck from driving from Tehran to Damascus. “My policy is to stop trucks driving from Tehran to Kfar Sava,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re allowing Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu continued. “They want to bring planes there, they want to bring army forces, warships and submarines. We are preventing this in practice. What’s preventing it is Israel – only Israel,” he said, adding that Iran needs to understand that if it wants to advance its ground, air and naval forces into Israel’s back yard, it will be met with opposition. “The decision whether to escalate is in the hands of the Iranians,” the prime minister said.

Asked about ties between Iran and countries like India and China, with which Netanyahu is trying to improve ties, he answered gingerly, “We have an interest in maintaining excellent relations with India and China as well. I understand the sensitivities and we are discussing that. too. Our improvement of ties is not designed against any specific country.”

Annexing the West Bank?

Netanyahu also fielded a question about the Likud Central Committee’s resolution to annex the West Bank to Israel, noting that the committee could resolve whatever it liked, and the government would also do so.

The prime minister then said, “I support wisdom and responsibility and firmness regarding our central interests,” which he said include protecting Israel’s security and settlements, as well as maneuvering vis-à-vis the international community.

Asked whether the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad would be legalized after a terror attack nearby killed 35-year-old Rabbi Raziel Shevach, he said that this option was under consideration. He noted that in the meantime, the outpost has been connected up to water and electricity.

He then asked to share something personal with the reporters: a moment from the red-carpet reception, with the Indian honor guard present. “I thought how I was representing a people that was shattered to pieces 70, 75 years ago, and now I am being received here as its prime minister, with the respect given to a nation among the nations, and more,” Netanyahu said. “It moved me very much. I think that historically, the moment reflected the Jewish people’s return to the world stage, in many ways.”

The city of New Delhi alone has three times the whole population of Israel, Netanyahu said, and “India contains a considerable proportion of the people who live on Earth. India is a world power and Modi is trying to advance it, to become even more powerful. He is going out of his way to demonstrate his friendship toward Israel and the personal friendship between us.”

Netanyahu said that this is partly due to Israel’s might – economic, technological, in security and in intelligence – but also contains a dimension of personal relations.

A number of economic agreements have been signed during this visit, Netanyahu said, and he anticipates more agreements on security and business in the months to come.

No passage to India

The biggest obstacle that the Israeli delegation would like to resolve involves red tape on imports to India. Until a comprehensive solution, such as a free trade agreement, can be found, Israel has given India a list of products it wants to be exempt from customs – chiefly, food.

The topic of upgrading direct aviation links also arose, as did the use of Israeli agricultural technology in India, which hasn’t yet adopted all the advanced technologies, Netanyahu said carefully. “When I was the ambassador to the UN, we had no relations with India,” he added. “There was structural hostility. In recent years we have changed that from top to bottom. There has been unprecedented blossoming since the moment I met Modi and we decided to upgrade relations.”

Noa Landau
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No More Two-state Solution? In Dramatic Meeting, Palestinians Set to Announce New Strategy

January 14, 2018

Palestinian factions to gather in Ramallah to determine how to press ahead in wake of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration

By Jack Khoury Jan 14, 2018 2:40 PM

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, December 22, 2017

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, December 22, 2017 Francois Mori/AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to indicate what course the Palestinians will take – a continuation of the diplomatic process or demanding the implementation a one-state solution – during a dramatic meeting slated to take place in Ramallah on Sunday, Palestinian officials told Haaretz.

The meeting of the Palestinian Central Council is convening against the backdrop of U.S. President Donald Trump’s December 6 announcement declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and the unprecedented rift this caused between the Palestinian Authority and Washington.

Sunday’s meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah — seat of the Palestinian Authority government — will be held with representatives from most Palestinian factions but two important organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, announced that they will not attend, even though they were invited.

Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum criticized the decision to convene the gathering in Ramallah, saying that it should have been held in a different country to ensure the participation of senior representatives from all the factions.

Despite Hamas and Islamic Jihad shunning the meeting, Salim Zanoun, chairman of the Fatah Central Committee, said over the weekend that at least 90 of the 114 representatives of the council will attend the meeting, and they are expected to approve recommendations and suggestions that are raised.

Haaretz has learned that in discussions that were held over the weekend both by the Fatah Central Committee and by the PLO’s Executive Committee, a slew of suggestions is being considered; among them is the idea of nixing the Oslo Accords and the security coordination on the grounds that Israel has breached all agreements so the Palestinians are not committed to continue and uphold the accords.

Other elements in Fatah and in the PLO are leaning toward the option of continuing international efforts, especially through the United Nations, the European Union, China and Russia in order to advance international recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.

According to Fatah officials, the next Palestinian move would be to implement their demand to make the conflict an international issue and demand that the UN set up a team to resolve it. The United States could potentially be a member of such a team, the officials said, but it cannot be the exclusive mediator of the political process.

Haaretz has also learned that over the past several days, European and Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia have been applying pressure on the PA and on Abbas in particular not to take game-changing steps and to enable action on the international and diplomatic fronts.

Abbas is expected to make the opening speech of the meeting on Sunday evening. Palestinian officials who were involved in inside talks over the past several days told Haaretz that Abbas is expected to determine whether the Palestinian leadership will be changing course and strategy on Israel.

They say Abbas is slated to decide whether he will demand the implementation the one-state solution or still adhere to the diplomatic process, but not under the auspices of the White House.

The officials said that at the end of the day, regardless of decisions and recommendations at the meeting, every future move will depend on the will of Abbas and where the PLO’s Executive Committee steers the Palestinians.

Senior officials in the PLO have said that among the recommendations to be introduced at the meeting is the freezing of Palestinian recognition of Israel as long as Israel refuses to acknowledge a Palestinian state along the ‘67 borders.

Another suggestion would be asking the UN Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state along the ‘67 borders as well as define PA lands as a country under occupation. Yet another suggestion was to turn to the International Court of Law in order to start legal proceedings against Israel.

The Palestinian Central Council is an advisory body that meets when it is impossible to convene a parley of the Palestinian National Council (the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization) and is supposed to provide the PLO’s executive committee, which is the highest-ranking Palestinian executive body, with recommendations relating to policy.

The meeting will draw to a close on Monday evening.

A senior member of the PLO’s Executive Committee told Haaretz that despite the dramatic atmosphere Abbas’ associates are trying to create, there is no expectation for game-changing moves.

A senior member of Islamic Jihad, Khader Adnan, said that the participation in the meeting was redundant because its results are known in advance and because he thought Abbas had no intention of breaking entirely with Israel and abandoning the Oslo Accords and their consequences.

Hamas stated that if Abbas really wanted to promote the Palestinian interest he would have to announce the cancellation of the Oslo Accords and the security coordination with Israel as well as change his entire strategy when it comes to the PA’s relationship with the Jewish state.

Jack Khoury
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Hamas says will not attend Palestinian meeting over Jerusalem

January 13, 2018

Israeli border guards prepare to disperse a protest by Palestinians against the US’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on January 9, 2018 north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)

GAZA: Hamas said Saturday it would not participate in a meeting of Palestinian leaders to debate responses to the controversial US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The decision not to take part in the meeting to begin late Sunday is a further setback to failing reconciliation efforts between leading Palestinian factions.
“We have taken the decision not to participate in the meeting of the (Palestinian) Central Council in Ramallah,” Hamas said in a statement, however stressing its “commitment to the unity of our people.”
“The conditions under which the committee will be held will not enable it to carry out a comprehensive and responsible political review, and will prevent decisions that reach the level of our aspirations.”
The two-day meeting will bring together the heads of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian Islamist movement, were invited to attend despite not being part of the PLO. Islamic Jihad has also announced it would not take part.
Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, had been pushing for the meeting to be held outside the Palestinian territories but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas decided instead to host it in Ramallah, the base of his government in the West Bank.
The Hamas statement said this left them subject to the “pressures” of Israel, which occupies the West Bank and regularly arrests Hamas officials.
The meeting is due to discuss responses to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The decision infuriated Palestinian leaders, who see at least the east of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Trump’s administration has also not publicly committed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and the PLO office in Washington was briefly threatened with closure.
Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party signed a reconciliation agreement in October that was meant to see the Islamists hand over control of Gaza by the end of the year.
The talks have however broken down, with disputes over the fate of tens of thousands of Hamas civil servants and the future of Hamas’ vast armed wing.
Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, forcing out Abbas’ forces in a near civil war.
It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is considered a terrorist organization by the Jewish State, the United States and others.


Flare-up with Israel tests Hamas effort to keep Gaza on low boil

January 13, 2018

Palestinians watch as demonstrators clash with Israeli troops, near the border with Israel in the east of Gaza City on Friday. (REUTERS)

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER: The worst fighting on the Gaza Strip front since 2014 is being calibrated by Hamas, which wants to signal defiance of Israel and the US while being careful not to trigger a new war for the enclave’s penned-in Palestinians.

Since President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy on Dec. 6 by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinians in Gaza have launched 18 cross-border rockets or mortars — a third of all such attacks in 3-1/2 years of relative quiet.
For Israel’s part, though residents in the south have raised a clamor for harsh retaliation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has counselled caution and targeted mostly unmanned Hamas facilities in night-time airstrikes.
The careful moves reflect the balancing act maintained both by Hamas that controls Gaza and the Israeli government — old foes who share a reluctance to go to war again.
Gaza’s neighborhoods still bear the scars of the destruction caused by Israeli attacks during a seven-week conflict in 2014. In Israel, there is little eagerness to endure the daily sirens warning of rocket strikes.
But ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are keenly aware that even a single incident — a rocket causing multiple fatalities in Israel or Israeli forces killing a militant leader — could set off a conflagration that would be beyond their leaders’ control.
Two Hamas gunmen have died in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes and 15 protesters from Israeli gunfire.
“The recent weeks of rockets and Israeli bombardment proved an explosion is possible,” said Gaza political analyst Akram Attalla. “How long will Hamas continue to take Israeli strikes to its positions without a response? And how long will Israel’s Netanyahu tolerate internal criticism? There is no guarantee.”
While there have been no Israeli fatalities or serious injuries in the rocket strikes, farmers in communities close to the Gazan border think twice about tilling fields where they might be exposed and children practice duck-and-cover drills should air raid sirens sound.
“Lately we do feel that there is more presence of the army. We have been told to be more careful, to clear the bomb shelter just in case. You never know when the next rocket will come,” said Hila Fenlon, resident of the farm collective Nativ Haasara.
Hamas has responded to Trump’s move by mobilizing mass protests at the border and turning a blind eye to other factions firing into Israel in two weeks of daily attacks, which have tailed off recently.
“This saves face for Hamas, as it appears to be the one that stands behind these protests without the need to go to war,” said Attalla.
A more violent response was tamped down in debate among Palestinian factions who agreed that an armed confrontation could erode the international support Palestinians have won diplomatically and shift attention from the political process.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said no-one should underestimate the potential for hostilities to resume under what he called an Israeli occupation, however.
Israel withdrew troops and settlers from the territory in 2005 but remains the conduit for the passage of goods and supplies most of its electricity. Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, maintain tight restrictions on the passage of Palestinians through their borders with the enclave.
“The situation in Gaza is very difficult and is not tolerable and is doomed to explode,” he told Reuters.

Iranian support
Israel sees an outside catalyst for the violence — Iran, which both Hamas and its sometime ally Islamic Jihad (IJ) say has pledged unlimited assistance for them as the Syrian civil war, where Tehran deployed reinforcements for Damascus, winds down.

Israel has gone out its way to blame IJ and other groups for the rocket and mortar attacks, rather than Hamas, and even gave grudging credit to Hamas for being mindful of Palestinian civilian needs.
“Calls to respond with full force against Hamas are irresponsible,” the top Israeli general, Gadi Eizenkot, said in a speech last week. He noted Gaza’s “danger of humanitarian collapse,” which, he said, had forced Hamas to engage with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and secured a renewed power supply to the enclave.

Israel also has problems elsewhere.

Having neutralized much of the rocket threat from Gaza with their Iron Dome interceptor system, and hard at a work on an underground wall that would block guerrilla tunnels from the territory, Israeli defense officials say they worry more about Iran and the combustible northern front with Syria and Lebanon.
They also fear that the $1.1 billion sensor-equipped barrier on the 60-km frontier could tempt Gaza militants to use their tunnels to strike Israel before they lose them.
A range of economic initiatives have been broached, from the construction of an island off Gaza to handle direct imports by sea to the issuing of more permits for Palestinian laborers or agricultural exports to enter Israel.
“There is an effort to help the (Palestinian) population in a way that will not go to the armed wing of Hamas,” said Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, which has prepared a 180-page memorandum on the Gaza crisis.
Israeli concern about worsening Gaza’s internal problems has put it at odds even with the Trump administration, which has threatened to cut US contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that provides essential aid for Palestinian refugees in the enclave, supporting and administering hundreds of schools and dozens of health facilities.
Israel says funds should be cut gradually and UNRWA should ultimately be dismantled and its responsibilities transferred to the UN’s global refugee agency.
Cutting aid to UNRWA would spell “huge pressures on Gaza’s residents,” said Saleh Naami, another Palestinian political analyst.
Peter Lerner, a former Israeli military spokesman, agreed.
“While UNRWA is far from perfect, the Israeli defense establishment, and the Israeli government as a whole, have over the years come to the understanding that all alternatives are worse for Israel,” he said.

PLO Moves To Withdraw Recognition of Israel, Cut Ties

January 12, 2018
 JANUARY 11, 2018 15:54

Palestinians question whether Ramallah will follow through on its threats.

saeb erekat

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat (C) and Maen Rashid Areikat (2nd R), chief of the PLO delegation in Washington, arrive to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington September 3, 2014.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The PA was formed as an interim governing body by the 1993 Oslo Accords—signed by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and previous PLO chief Yasser Arafat—and was meant to be dissolved after no later than five years as part of a final peace agreement.

Two-and-a-half decades later, the PLO is now threatening to do just that, which, in its view, would release the Palestinians from political obligations stipulated in agreements with Israel.

According to PLO Executive Committee member Ahmed Majdalani, Israel “didn’t commit to any of the terms,” thereby effectively absolving the PA of its responsibilities. “I believe we are late in making these decisions and implementing them,” he told The Media Line, “which has created a gap between the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people.”

In this respect, there does, indeed, appear to be a growing chasm between the PA and the Palestinian “Street,” with a number of individuals expressing to The Media Line a distrust of Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority. One businessman, who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity, called on PA leaders to resign, as they are no longer “qualified” to make decisions “that have no impact on the ground.”

Another Palestinian, Bashar, noted that PLO leaders have made similar threats numerous times in the past, yet cooperation with Israel, security coordination foremost, remains intact. “They practice double standards,” he exclaimed, whereas another person, who asked not to be identified, went so far as to suggest that the PA shares “mutual interests” with “the [Israeli] occupation” and thus cannot be expected to advance the Palestinian cause.

Even those supportive of the PLO’s newly stated goals do not believe that they will be implemented. “These decisions might be good for Palestine,” one Ramallah resident told The Media Line, “as they could potentially change the [negative] situation caused by the Oslo Accords.” Nevertheless, she qualified, “I don’t think the PA is capable of forging a better agreement, unless they focus on a national agenda to support the Palestinian public.” Many other Palestinians echoed these sentiments, calling on the PA to change course after years of failed negotiations.

To this end, Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee and chief Palestinian negotiator, reiterated on Tuesday the PA’s refusal to engage in any peace initiative sponsored by the US unless the Trump administration retracts its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This comes after Erekat earlier this month slammed American threats to cut aid to the Palestinians, describing the prospect as tantamount to “starving refugees…in support of Israeli positions.”

Nevertheless, Erekat appeared to leave the door open for a rapprochement, saying that while the Palestinians do not want to clash with Washington, President Trump had left them with no choice.

As such, Abbas is expected to boycott US Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the Middle East later this month. The PA chief is tentatively slated to travel on January 22 to Brussels—thus precluding the possibility of hosting Pence in Ramallah—where he will attempt to curry favor from Western European countries which uniformly opposed President Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Pence will nonetheless meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and with Jordanian King Abdullah II on January 21; this, before spending two days in Israel. The American vice president is scheduled to address the Israeli parliament and visit the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, a move that could spark further controversy due to its location in east Jerusalem, conquered by Israel in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.


mpact on Palestinians could be ‘catastrophic’ if US pulls funding — UN agency

January 12, 2018

Israeli soldiers set up a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus on Jan. 10, 2018. UNRWA was founded in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees, provide educational and health services in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.(AFP)

BEIRUT: Losing significant funding from its largest donor, the US, could be “catastrophic” for Palestinians, said a UN agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees.

Last week, President Donald Trump said the United States may withhold future aid payments to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) over what he called the Palestinians’ unwillingness to talk peace with Israel.
A State Department official later said that no decision had been made on payment.
The United States is the largest donor to the agency, with a pledge of nearly $370 million as of 2016, according to UNRWA’s website.
The UN agency, founded in 1949 to aid Palestinian refugees, provides educational and health services in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“The human impact of losing significant funding could be catastrophic in the real lives of real people whom the UN is mandated to protect,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.
“Palestine refugees are among some of the most vulnerable people in the Middle East. Our health services offer a life line, quite literally, to vulnerable women and children, the sick and the elderly,” he said.
On Tuesday the Swedish ambassador to the United Nations, Olof Skoog, said he was concerned that a withdrawal of funding for UNRWA “would be very negative both in terms of humanitarian needs of over 5 million people but also of course it would be destabilising for the region.”
Gunness said there was much at stake for the Palestinians.
“Even the most modest shock in a fragile society can have an inordinate impact and the consequences could be profound, widespread, dramatic and unpredictable,” he said.
Relations between the Palestinians and Washington soured last month after Trump announced the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage across the Arab world and concern among Washington’s Western allies.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
US State Department spokesman Steve Goldstein told a briefing in Washington on Thursday that US funding for UNRWA was still under consideration and that no decision had yet been made.


Palestinians to meet to discuss Trump Jerusalem response

January 12, 2018


© AFP/File / by Nasser Abu Bakr | US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has infuriated the Palestinian leadership

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Senior Palestinian leaders will meet in Ramallah on Sunday to debate responses to US President Donald Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.Among the options to be considered is the potential suspension of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) recognition of Israel, delegates said.

Such a move could call into question a founding principle of the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians and threaten decades of agreements with Israel, including on security.

Scepticism is widespread that the leadership will follow through with such an unpredictable step, but the fact that it is being discussed will be taken as a measure of the level of anger towards the Trump administration.

The two-day meeting of the Palestinian Central Council will begin late Sunday, with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas expected to open with a brief address.

The 121-member council is a high-ranking arm of the PLO, the internationally recognised representative of the Palestinian people, and includes members of different parties.

Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has infuriated the Palestinian leadership, who see at least the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future state they have sought to gain through American-led negotiations.

His administration has also not publicly committed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and the PLO office in Washington was briefly closed down.

Abbas has said after the recognition the Americans can no longer play a role as mediator, and is expected to shun Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Israel on January 22-23.

– Redefining the relationship –

Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official, told AFP that a committee created to formulate responses to Trump’s announcement would recommend redefining the Palestinian relationship with Israel.

Among the options, he said, was suspending recognition of Israel, accusing the Jewish state of failing to abide by agreements.

“It is not possible for the Palestinian side to remain the only one committed to the agreements signed while the other side (Israel) is not committed to them and has violated them for years,” Majdalani said.

Previous Palestinian threats to suspend security coordination or recognition of Israel have not been carried out.

In 2015 the council voted to end security cooperation with Israel but it was not implemented, with the rulings not binding on Abbas.

The Palestinian leadership signed the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993, formalising its recognition of Israel.

The agreements were supposed to lead to a final settlement — what many envisioned as the creation of an independent Palestinian state — within five years, but they have since broken down.

Majdalani said instead of US-mediated talks they would be looking for a conference led by the United Nations on the future of the peace process.

The agenda of Sunday’s talks includes a review of the situation since Oslo, as well as responses to Trump.

Palestinian Islamist movements Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are not members of the PCC, have been invited, delegates said, but it was unclear if they would attend.

Hamas, which runs Gaza, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and does not recognise it.

Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political analyst, said the Palestinian leadership was seeking to change course.

But she said there were different camps among the leadership.

“One that sees that Trump has ushered in a completely different era and business as usual is no longer possible.

“The other camp is less convinced the world is ready to support us in a way that confronts this administration.

“The debate is about what can we do that won’t leave us alone with our backs against the wall.”

by Nasser Abu Bakr

How Lebanon Managed to End Its Bloodiest Conflicts, While Israel Failed

January 12, 2018

Both Lebanon and Israel increased their territories in the wake of war and found themselves ruling new populations. But there’s one glaring difference between the two expanded states

By Oren Barak Jan 12, 2018 7:01 AM

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel.

File photo: IDF soldiers patrol the border with Lebanon on March 28, 2000 in Lilach, Israel. Mark H. Milstein / ANS / Getty

In August 1978, Prime Minister Menachem Begin met secretly in Jerusalem with Camille Chamoun, a leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian community and a former president of his country. In the meeting, Begin promised Chamoun that Israel would expand its aid to the Christians in Lebanon, and in this context drew a comparison between the Lebanese Christians and the Jews who were persecuted in the Diaspora. The meeting between the two concluded with ardent embraces, but as Chamoun left the Prime Minister’s Residence, his face clouded over. “Mr. Prime Minister,” he said to Begin, “don’t make the same mistakes that we made in Lebanon. The French forced ‘Greater Lebanon’ on us and made us annex Muslim-populated areas. That was the source of our troubles. Don’t annex Muslim territories to your country.”

Begin listened, but said nothing.

In a recently published book, “State Expansion and Conflict: In and Between Israel/Palestine and Lebanon,” I draw a first comparison of its kind between two expanded states: “Greater Lebanon,” which was established in 1920, in the wake of World War I; and “Greater Israel” (or Israel/Palestine), which came into being after the 1967 Six-Day War. What both cases have in common is that a relatively small political unit – the autonomous district of Mount Lebanon and the State of Israel, respectively – added to itself territories that had previously been outside its boundaries. Thus, instead of becoming (in Lebanon) or continuing to be (in Israel) a more-or-less homogenous nation-state, as its leaders had hoped, each state became a divided society: namely, one containing a number of religious, ethnic or national groups between which there is tension, friction and sometimes also violent conflict.

Nevertheless, there is one outstanding difference between these two expanded states. “Greater Lebanon,” which later became the independent state of Lebanon, was eventually accepted by the majority of its inhabitants, including the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims who lived in the areas annexed to it in 1920, and was also accepted by its Arab neighbors (including Syria, which initially refused to recognize Lebanon’s “separate” existence, but eventually, in 2008, established diplomatic relations with it). In contrast, not one country – including Israel itself – has recognized the existence of “Greater Israel” as a state. Moreover, many of its residents, including most of the Palestinians but also a not insignificant number of Israeli Jews, refuse to accept it to this day.

At the same time, all efforts that have been undertaken to date to bring about the “contraction” of the two expanded states have failed. Lebanon’s borders remain unchanged since 1920, as have the borders of Israel/Palestine since 1967. (Israel withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but no recognized international border exists between it and that region, and the Strip itself is under an Israeli land, air and sea blockade.) This lengthy existence of the two expanded states – almost a century in the Lebanon case, and a half-century for Israel/Palestine – obliges us to take them seriously as political phenomena, and also creates an opening for a comparison between them.

Such a comparison shows that in the first decades after the expansion, the political leaders in both countries adopted different ways to cope with the divided society they had created (in Israel/Palestine) or asked others to create for them (in Lebanon – and here it needs to be remarked that, contrary to what Chamoun said to Begin, it was the Maronite Christians who pressured France, their ally, to expand their country’s borders in 1920). Moreover, the decisions made by these leaders engendered consequences that were sometimes similar and sometimes different, and in some cases became intertwined – as occurred, for example, in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance of 1976-1982, which reached its zenith in the first Lebanon War.

Both cases, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, were at first characterized by relative political stability, whether in the wake of a power-sharing arrangement between the different communities, such as existed in Lebanon from 1943 to 1975, or by the establishment of a system of “control” of one community over the other, as existed in Israel/Palestine until the eruption of the first Palestinian intifada in 1987. But in both expanded states, political stability was undermined later, when those who viewed themselves as being victimized by the situation – groups consisting largely of Muslims in Lebanon (though some of them included Christians, too), and the Palestinians in Israel/Palestine – put forward demands that were rejected by each country’s leaders.

Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.
Arab prisoners of war are led blindfolded to interrogation in the old city of Jerusalem, June 8, 1967.GOREN / AP

Decline of statism

It’s important to note that in both Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, considerable differences existed in the countries’ strength, in the degree of their legitimacy in the eyes of their residents and in the scale of international intervention in their affairs. As a result, the conflicts that broke out in the two divided societies were different in character. In Lebanon, where a civil war raged from 1975 until 1990, the conflict revolved largely around power, positions and resources, but most of the parties involved did not challenge the very existence of the expanded state, and those who did were branded “isolationists.” But in Israel/Palestine, since 1987 the conflict has been over the expanded state itself, with one side, Israel, seeking to continue maintaining it, and the other, the Palestinians, seeking to part from it.

This basic difference between the two conflicts can explain why the conflict in Lebanon – in which, according to official estimates, 150,000 people were killed – concluded with a relatively successful peace process culminating in the 1989 Ta’if Agreement and in the end of the civil war, a year later, whereas the peace process in Israel/Palestine in the 1990s did not succeed in putting an end to the conflict and its collapse brought about the renewal of violence between the sides in 2000. True, Lebanon did not become a strong state in the wake of the Ta’if Agreement, and its political stability is occasionally disturbed, whether by local players (such as Hezbollah in 2006) or by external developments (such as the civil war in Syria since 2011, during which hundreds of thousands of refugees streamed into the country). But, unlike Israel/Palestine, Lebanon is considered a legitimate state by the overwhelming majority of its citizens.

Lebanon and Israel/Palestine, however, are not only cases that exist separately from each other. They are also neighbors, and as such it is worth examining the nature of the relations between them before and after Israel’s expansion in 1967, and to ask whether this factor influenced their relations.

In contrast to the prevailing image of Israel-Lebanon relations as inherently volatile, both countries have actually known periods of relative stability on their common border. For example, in the period 1949-1967, Israel’s relations with Lebanon, even without a formal peace agreement, were more stable than those it shared with Egypt, Syria or Jordan. In this period, the problems that arose between the two countries were handled relatively successfully by the Israel-Lebanon Mixed Armistice Commission, which included representatives from both sides and a United Nations observer.

In the wake of the 1967 war, however, relations began to deteriorate. Following the emergence of Israel/Palestine as an expanded state, Israel expelled the armed Palestinian organizations from the territories to Jordan, and in the wake of the civil war that erupted there in 1970 (“Black September”), they found shelter in the Lebanon-Israel border area, where they could operate against Israel in relative freedom. Israel tried initially to force the Lebanese government to restrain the Palestinian factions, as King Hussein had done in Jordan, and afterward tried to do so itself, notably in Operation Litani in 1978 and during the first Lebanon War in 1982.

It’s noteworthy that Israeli decision makers’ perception of Lebanon in this period was influenced also, and perhaps mainly, by the profound changes that occurred in Israel/Palestine following the state’s expansion in 1967. This was expressed particularly in the diminishment, not to say decline, of the statist orientation, which places the state at the center, and the rise of the communal orientation, which accords supreme importance to the ethno-national group both domestically and externally. A salient example of this is Israel’s attempt to annul unilaterally its 1949 armistice agreement with Lebanon in the wake of the 1967 war, even though Lebanon had not been involved in the war. But the height of this process was in the period of the Israeli-Maronite alliance, beginning in the mid-1970s.

Hezbollah as patron

The eruption of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1975, and the rise of the Phalangist Party, under the leadership of the Gemeyal family, as the largest and strongest Maronite Christian force in the country in the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, created a golden opportunity for Israel’s leaders, particularly those who advocated the “community” approach, such as Prime Minister Begin, but also for such security officials as Ariel Sharon, Rafael Eitan and David Kimche. In this way, they were able to deal a mortal blow to the armed Palestinian factions, considerably weaken Syria – Israel’s most significant enemy after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 – and radically transform Israel-Lebanon relations.

But Israel’s attempt to resolve in one fell swoop both conflicts – in Israel/Palestine and in Lebanon – ended in failure. Although Israel succeeded in 1982 in expelling Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his supporters from Lebanon, and inflicting heavy losses on the Syrian army, Lebanon’s president-elect, Bashir Gemeyal, who was Israel’s chief ally, was assassinated, and Israel was accused of being responsible for the massacre perpetrated by its ally, the Maronite Christian Lebanese Forces militia, in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The massacre itself, but also the “Reagan Plan” for Arab-Israeli peace presented by the U.S. administration, guaranteed that the Palestinian problem – which Israel had sought to make disappear in order to entrench its expanded state in Israel/Palestine – was not only not shelved but that it would come increasingly to the fore.

Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     
Clothes left behind by South Lebanon Army soldiers during the Israeli withdrawal are strewn on the barbed wire border fence between Israel and Lebanon as seen from Kfar Kila, 27 May 2000.     THOMAS COEX / AFP

But these setbacks did not mark the end of Israel’s ordeals in Lebanon. In the wake of repeated attacks on its forces, this time by Lebanese militias – particularly Hezbollah, the Shi’ite party-militia – the government of Israel decided on a partial withdrawal from Lebanon and the creation of a “security zone” along the Israel-Lebanon border in which a local militia, the South Lebanon Army, would operate with Israeli backing and support. Nonetheless, Hezbollah’s attacks persisted, and according to Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe Tamir, who served in the “security zone” in those years, the result was that Hezbollah was “transformed from being an outcast terrorist organization, operating contrary to the will of the central government in Lebanon, into a legitimate resistance movement of the Lebanese people against the Israeli occupation.”

It was not until 2000, nearly a decade after the end of the civil war in Lebanon, that Israel decided to withdraw its forces from Lebanon completely. But by then, Hezbollah was a well-trained and well-armed player in the Lebanese arena, enjoying the support of Iran and Syria. Indeed, even after the withdrawal by Israel, Hezbollah looked for, and found, ever more pretexts to continue fighting it.

The result, then, was that instead of solving the Palestinian problem in Lebanon, as Israel’s leaders had hoped to do in 1982, they found that the conflicts in the two expanded states were now intertwined. This situation found expression in the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, on which Israel embarked, in part, because of provocations by the Palestinian organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip, but also in prisoner-exchange deals between Israel and Hezbollah, in which the Lebanese organization portrayed itself, in part, as the patron of the Palestinians.

The expanded state of Israel/Palestine that emerged in 1967 created a divided society in this territory, in place of the relatively homogeneous society that had existed in the State of Israel since it had gained independence, and engendered far-reaching implications not only domestically but externally as well, including in terms of its neighbor, Lebanon.

In view of the far-reaching external impacts of Israel’s expansion in 1967, it would appear that in this case, Henry Kissinger’s well-known observation that “Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic policy,” is apt, albeit with a somewhat different meaning than he had in mind.

Prof. Oren Barak teaches in the departments of both political science and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he is a research fellow in the Forum for Regional Thinking.

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Egypt orders ‘urgent’ probe into report Cairo backed Trump on Jerusalem

January 11, 2018

Chief prosecutor says New York Times article alleging Egyptian media was ordered to downplay shift in US policy ‘undermines’ state security

US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

US President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

The Times of Israel is liveblogging Thursday’s events as they unfold.


Egypt orders probe into report that Cairo backed Trump on Jerusalem

Egypt’s chief prosecutor has ordered an “urgent” investigation into a New York Times report about recordings purportedly of an intelligence officer instructing TV talk show hosts and a famous actress to downplay US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Chief prosecutor Nabil Sadeq’s statement says the report, published over the weekend, “undermines Egypt’s security, public peace and hurts the public’s interest.”

The decision followed a flurry of condemnation of the Times by lawmakers, commentators and the State Information Service.

The government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a close Trump ally, has denounced Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Michael Slackman, The Times’ international editor, is quoted as saying in an article published Wednesday that the paper’s “story was a deeply reported, consequential piece of journalism, and we stand fully behind it.”

— AP

‘You Want a Girl? How Many?’: Tapes Reveal How Right-wing Group Tried to Make East Jerusalem Jewish

January 10, 2018

Right-wing groups often used coercion tactics to acquire Palestinian property in East Jerusalem

By Nir Hasson Jan 10, 2018 4:31 PM

Matityahu Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization, holds a Torah scroll as part of a Jewish procession in Silwan in East Jerusalem last year

Matityahu Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization, holds a Torah scroll as part of a Jewish procession in Silwan in East Jerusalem last year Olivier Fitoussi


“You want a girl? One, two, how many do you want … how old do you want?” The speaker is Matityahu Dan, chairman of the Ateret Cohanim organization and a driving force behind Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. He is offering a girl, plus Viagra if needed, to the Palestinian owner of a property his organization seeks to acquire.

The above conversation took place about two decades ago. Since then, Ateret Cohanim has acquired many properties.

This and other recordings obtained by Haaretz offer a glimpse into how Jewish groups acquire Palestinian property in East Jerusalem. In them, Dan and other Ateret Cohanim employees, including the group’s attorney, Eitan Geva, speak freely about how their end justifies any means. Aside from offering sex services (as long as the girls aren’t Jewish), they threaten to publicize the negotiations, which could endanger the Palestinian owner’s life, if he refuses to sell.

In one recording, Geva tells an owner’s family, “Either you close up the place and transfer it to us, or you go to court and it’ll be a blunder: It will become clear that your father or your husband did all this for the Jews, as an agent of the Jews. There are two ways to do this, quietly or noisily. For you, quietly is better.”

Dan also describes ways to obscure transactions, including the use of fictitious intermediaries and companies registered in overseas tax shelters. In addition, he discusses a man called “Hai.” A former close associate of Dan’s said “Hai” is a senior official of the Greek Orthodox Church who helped Dan to acquire church properties with Palestinian tenants.


Dan has close ties with cabinet ministers, Knesset members and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. Since the 1980s, he has been a key figure in acquiring Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlement, either from Palestinians or from the state, if the state determined they were formerly owned by Jews. In the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, for instance, there are now about 1,000 Jewish residents connected to Ateret Cohanim. There are also some 20 Jewish families in the Silwan neighborhood.

In 2005, a Palestinian resident of Silwan told Haaretz how Dan acquired the building known as Beit Yonatan. Dan took the Palestinian, who had built the building illegally and lived there with his family, on a trip to America that include call girls and casinos. One night, Dan left him alone with two women. That same night, Ateret Cohanim, with police backing, evicted the Palestinian family from Beit Yonatan. Dan never denied this story.

This might surprise people who know that Ateret Cohanim also runs a yeshiva headed by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is noted for his strict rulings on female modesty and the sanctity of the family. But the tapes indicate that such methods aren’t uncommon.

“I’ll give you the money,” Dan is heard telling a Palestinian property owner in the tape quoted in the first paragraph. “Take whoever you want. You want a girl? Take a girl with you.” They discuss how many girls and the desired age (18 to 22). The Palestinian specifies a “Russian” girl. Dan also offers Viagra.

After the seller leaves the room, Dan tells another person, “It went well, eh?” The other person says there will be no problem getting “a prostitute,” a room for the meeting and Viagra.

At that point, Dan sets a condition: “Don’t bring a Jewish girl.” The other man responds, apparently referring to prostitutes, “There are no Jewish girls in Israel today, all the girls are non-Jewish Russians.”

“Really? You’re sure?” Dan asks.

Next, he proposes having the seller examined by a doctor before giving him the Viagra. That angers the other man.

“The problem is you talk about all kinds of things, but you don’t pay,” he says. “You say, let’s bring this, let’s bring that, and it all costs money.” Dan responds, “If he likes porn so much, use that with him.”

Sex services aren’t Ateret Cohanim’s only method of persuasion. In one tape, Dan promises the seller that he’ll work via an intermediary. “I’ll build it so someone very strong, with a good reputation, will be up front, so that nobody will make any trouble,” he says.

The seller asks that the money be transferred through a company registered overseas and is promised one registered in the British Virgin Islands. Ateret Cohanim has at least 10 shell companies registered in overseas tax shelters.

Dan also asks about other problems the seller might have, like unresolved issues with the Israel Tax Authority or the Jerusalem municipality, and about the health of other relatives who might have rights in the property.

The issue of relatives also arose during a discussion of a different deal. In that recording, Ateret Cohanim personnel discuss ways to convince the relatives that their father has died in order to reach an agreement with them over an East Jerusalem property.

The person close to Dan described one additional tactic. After the contract is signed, Ateret Cohanim will often threaten to publicize the sale agreement — something that could endanger the seller’s life — unless the seller significantly lowers the agreed-upon price.

“What can the Arab do?” this source said. “Ask for the money? Go to court? They exploit his weakness. When I asked Mati ‘Why are you cheating these people?’ he said, “We didn’t cheat them, we simply didn’t pay.’ That’s how he sees it; in his view, it isn’t cheating. Nobody can sue them.”

Jerusalem's Petra and Imperial hotels. The properties are part of the Greek Orthodox Church's controversial real estate deals.
Jerusalem’s Petra and Imperial hotels. The properties are part of the Greek Orthodox Church’s controversial real estate deals. Emil Salman

The recordings also shed light on a legal battle now being waged in the Supreme Court between Ateret Cohanim and the Greek Patriarchate over three East Jerusalem buildings sold to Ateret Cohanim in 2004 by the deposed former patriarch, Irenaios. The church wants the sale canceled, saying the price was unreasonable and the deal stemmed from corruption under Irenaios. The Jerusalem District Court rejected its suit, so the church appealed.

A recording from a few years before that sale proves that at least for one building, the Petra Hotel near Jaffa Gate, Dan knew the $500,000 price was far below its real value. In this recording, someone proposed that Ateret Cohanim pay $4 million for a protected tenancy. Protected tenancy fees are usually around half the price of a purchase or a long-term lease.

Dan responded that an assessor valued the tenancy at $1.3 million. The other person retorted that buying the property would cost $10 million. Dan considered that too low. If purchased, “it would be worth $100 million,” he said.

Even assuming he was exaggerating, Dan clearly knew the building was worth far more than $500,000. Yet for that price, Ateret Cohanim got not only the four-story Petra Hotel, but another building next door which one source said is worth “at least $2 million” due to its extremely desirable location.

The assessment Dan cited in the recording was apparently never presented in court. Instead, Ateret Cohanim submitted an assessment valuing the hotel at just 1.2 million shekels ($350,000). That convinced the district court the $500,000 price was reasonable.

The person close to Dan said the low price might have resulted from Ateret Cohanim’s connections with the church, and particularly the man called Hai, who is described in the recordings as someone able to influence church policy on property sales.

Dan and Geva both declined to comment for this report.

Nir Hasson
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