Posts Tagged ‘Mahmoud Abbas’

Trump Tells Putin: ‘Now Is the Time’ to Forge an Israeli-Palestinian Peace

February 13, 2018

The two leaders speak shortly before Putin’s meeting with Palestinian President Abbas to discuss the peace process

.File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladamir Putin at an APEC in Vietnam on November 11, 2017.
File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladamir Putin at an APEC in Vietnam on November 11, 2017.Jorge Silva/AP

WASHINGTON – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that “now is the time” to work toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The two leaders spoke on the phone shortly before Putin met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to statements released by both the White House and the Kremlin, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was an important part of the conversation between the two leaders.

In the statement, the White House said that after Trump offered his condolences to Putin for the fatal plane crash that took place in Moscow over the weekend, the Russian President noted his meeting with Abbas later in the day, “and President Trump said that now is the time to work toward an enduring peace agreement.”

During their meeting, Abbas told Putin he could no longer accept the role of the United States as a mediator in talks with Israel because of Washington’s behaviour, the Interfax news agency reported.

“We state that from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the U.S. in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions,” Abbas told Putin at the start of talks in Moscow. He said last week that he hoped Russia could assume a greater role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying the United States “can no longer play a leading role.”

Putin mentioned the call with Trump at the start of his meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.

He said: “Naturally we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement” and told Abbas: “I would like to convey to you his best wishes.”

Putin met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago in Moscow. Russia has managed to maintain robust relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority government, as well as Israeli rivals Syria and Iran.

The region’s situation is “far from what we want to see,” Putin said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.

Trump honored a campaign promise in December by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowing to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.

The move outraged Palestinians and others across the Muslim world. Palestinian leaders have said it means Washington can no longer serve as a Mideast peace broker.

Reuters contributed to this report.


Putin discusses Mideast with Trump, hosts Abbas

February 13, 2018

After Russian president conveys Trump’s regards to PA leader, Abbas reiterates stance that US can no longer be sole mediator in peace talks

Times of Israel and Agencies

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/SPUTNIK/Mikhail KLIMENTIEV)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/SPUTNIK/Mikhail KLIMENTIEV)

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday at the start of talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that he had discussed the Middle East conflict with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

“I just spoke with American President Trump,” Putin told Abbas before continuing the talks behind closed doors. “Obviously, we spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…I would like to convey to you his best wishes.”

The Palestinian leader was visiting Moscow in a bid to secure Putin’s support, after Trump outraged the Palestinians and their allies by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It is very important for us to know your personal opinion in order to set the record straight and put in place a common approach to solve this problem,” Putin told his guest.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/SPUTNIK/Mikhail KLIMENTIEV)

Abbas has refused any contact with Trump’s administration since Washington’s decision at the end of last year.

The December 6 White House declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital outraged Ramallah and others across the Muslim world. Palestinian leaders have said it means Washington can no longer serve as a Mideast peace broker.

Trump, on the other hand introduced his decision as merely based on reality. The president stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites. Afterward, however, he said several times that his decision had taken Jerusalem “off the table.”

“Given the atmosphere created by the United State’s actions, we… refuse any cooperation with the United States as a mediator,” Abbas told Putin.

“In case of an international meeting, we ask that the United States be not the only mediators, but just one of the mediators.”

The PA has been trying to convince Russia to play a much more prominent role in the peace talks since Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.

Earlier this month, Abbas met in his Ramallah office with two senior Russian officials, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the security council, and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat and PA General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj also attended the meeting.

Abbas told them that the PA was interested in developing and strengthening its relations with Russia. He also expressed appreciation for Russia’s support for the Palestinians in various areas, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Abbas emphasized the importance of Russia’s political stance, due to its “great weight in the international arena and as part of the Quartet, which should continue to play a fair and just role,” Wafa quoted him as saying.

Wafa quoted the Russian officials as saying that Putin was looking forward to his meeting with the PA president. The envoys also affirmed Russia’s continued support for the Palestinians and efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, it said.

Monday’s meeting with Putin came two weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also visited Moscow.


Abbas’ government sued over alleged CIA-backed wiretapping

February 6, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is accused of continued intelligence-sharing with the US even after announcing he was suspending contacts with American officials dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP)
RAMALLAH, West Bank: A former Palestinian intelligence chief and the head of the West Bank bar association are suing the Palestinian self-rule government after a purported whistleblower alleged the two were targeted, along with many other allies and rivals of President Mahmoud Abbas, in a large-scale CIA-backed wiretapping operation.
Allegations of continued intelligence-sharing with the US could prove embarrassing for Abbas who has been on a political collision course with Washington since President Donald Trump’s recognition in December of contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The claims are contained in a 37-page anonymous document that was been shared widely among Palestinians, mostly on WhatsApp. The document alleges that three of the Palestinian security services set up a joint electronic surveillance unit in mid-2014 and monitored the phone calls of thousands of Palestinians, from senior figures in militant groups to judges, lawyers, civic leaders and political allies of Abbas.
The author describes himself as a former member of the surveillance unit who quit “this dirty job” several months ago because of his growing opposition to Palestinian government practices, including intelligence-sharing with the US. He wrote that Trump’s policy shift on Jerusalem provided another impetus to go public.
Bar association head Jawad Obeidat said on Monday that transcripts of his phone conversations, as published in the document, were accurate.
“I made these phone calls and this is evidence that the leaked report is true,” said Obeidat, who spearheaded recent protests by lawyers after one of them was arrested from a court room during a legal case against the government.
“This is a blatant violation of human rights,” he said.
Tawfiq Tirawi, an outspoken Abbas critic and West Bank intelligence chief from 1994 to 2008, said he checked with his contacts and believes the document is authentic.
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Tawfiq Tirawi
The CIA declined comment.
In mid-January, when the document first surfaced, Palestinian security services said in a joint statement that it was part of a “plot” seeking to harm the political and security establishments.
Adnan Damiri, the spokesman of the security services, dismissed the document Monday as “nonsense.”
The allegations come at a low point in Palestinian relations with the US, following Trump’s policy pivot on Jerusalem, whose Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.
Abbas said at the time that he was suspending contacts with US officials dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US shift on Jerusalem angered many Palestinians, and in this context, allegations of continued intelligence-sharing with the US could pose a domestic political problem for Abbas.
The 82-year-old has also faced pushback from critics who say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian.
Elected in 2005, Abbas has ruled by decree since 2007, when the Islamic militant Hamas overran Gaza, leaving him with autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The territorial split and deep animosity between the Abbas- and Hamas-led camps paralyzed political institutions, including parliament, and prevented new elections.
Last week, Tirawi and Obeidat filed a complaint over the alleged wire-tapping against the Palestinian self-rule government, calling for a criminal investigation. The lawsuit asked that those who ordered the monitoring of their phones be punished and demanded an end to all wiretapping as a violation of privacy.
Attorney General Ahmed Barrak confirmed that he received the complaint, but declined further comment.
Separately, the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq demanded an investigation of the extent of the wiretapping and an explanation from the government. The head of Al-Haq, Shahwan Jabareen, said he has not received a response from the attorney general or the office of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Jabareen said an investigation must determine if the wiretapping went beyond monitoring militants who pose an immediate security threat. If the bar association was targeted, he said, the government might also be spying on other civil society organizations and ordinary people.
“We are not against security, but it has to be legal,” he said.
The document alleged that thousands of phones are being monitored without legal authorization, including those of leaders and senior operatives in Hamas, the militant group Islamic Jihad and other factions.
Others being monitored include members of Abbas’ inner circle, such as the No. 2 in his Fatah movement and members of the decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the document said.
Abbas rivals are also on the list, including the family of imprisoned uprising leader Marwan Barghouti and supporters of Abbas’ former top aide-turned-nemesis, the exiled Mohammed Dahlan, according to the document.
It said that in 2013, the then-head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service asked the CIA for help with wiretapping and that the CIA agreed, in exchange for oversight.
The document said the equipment was provided by ISS World, a company based in Virginia.
Jerry Lucas, the president of the ISS World parent company, TeleStrategies, declined comment when contacted by email Monday.
The document said members of the Palestinian surveillance unit were trained on the new equipment on the sidelines of an ISS World conference in Dubai.
The document included a copy of an invitation letter purportedly issued by TeleStrategies to two senior Palestinian security officers to attend an “ISS World Middle East Intelligence Support Systems Conference” at the Dubai Marriott from March 3-5, 2014.
The date and venue of the conference in the invitation match those on the ISS website.
Palestinian security officials acknowledged in the past, in private conservations, that they were engaged in domestic phone monitoring and other types of surveillance, going back to the 1990s.
However, the latest allegations, if confirmed, suggest spying has become more sophisticated and broader in scope.

Hamas ‘Prepares for Imminent War’ With Israel — Gaza Battle “Within Days” — Hamas has declared a state of high alert

February 4, 2018

Hamas sees ’95 percent’ chance of confrontation with Israel, Al Hayat reports, but sources say Hamas is attempting to ratchet up debate about the humanitarian crisis in the Strip

.A Palestinian demonstrator prepares to hurl a burning tire at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip February 2, 2018.
A Palestinian demonstrator prepares to hurl a burning tire at Israeli troops during clashes near the border with Israel in the southern Gaza Strip February 2, 2018.\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

The Gaza strip is preparing for confrontation with Israel within the next few days, the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat reported on Sunday. According to the report, Palestinian factions, Hamas being chief among them, assess the chances of war with Israel “at 95 percent” and assume it could erupt within hours or days.

Sources that have met with Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ political leader in Gaza, say that Palestinian factions believe that Israel will use a training exercise planned on the southern front to open a military operation against Hamas. The report further said that the military wing of Hamas has declared a state of high alert, evacuating sites and headquarters and even deploying road blocks accross the Strip.

Political and human rights activists in Gaza told Haaretz that the atmosphere in the Strip is very grim in light of the humanitarian crisis, some of which involves the non-implementation of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and mutual recriminations between the PA and Hamas over the freeze in talks.

Still, it seems the report of an impending military clash within days is exaggerated, and is part of an attempt by Hamas to ratchet up international discussion over the severe humanitarian situation in the Strip and the lack of progress toward reconciliation. It is widely believed that Israel will not initiate war with Hamas without real escalation in the south, such as a surge in rocket fire at southern communities.

In terms of the wider region, Egypt is not interested in an escalation, considering its continued operations against ISIS in Sinai and its upcoming presidential elections next week.

Political and human rights activists that spoke with Haaretz say that Hamas launching a campaign against Israel remains unlikely at this point.

A senior delegation of Fatah officials is set to visit the Gaza Strip this week, including members of the movement’s Central Committee. They are to hold meetings with the leadership of Hamas and the other factions. The PA says Hamas has not yet given up control over security or tax collection, while Hamas accuses the PA of shirking its responsibility toward the Gaza Strip. Hamas says that while Hamas has given up administration to the Mahmoud Abbas government, Abbas has not yet instructed that sanctions it imposed about a year ago be lifted.

Palestinian sources told Al-Hayat that Abbas has presented an alternative plan to that of U.S. President Donlad Trump, which calls for a phased recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with possible exchanges of territory that will allow Israel to annex the large settlements. According to the report, Abbas has conditioned his agreement to phased recognition to agreement on borders, but the White House rejected that proposal and said its plan would be presented for implementation, not negotiation.

This report has not been confirmed by officials in the PA, and talks are continuing with international officials, particularly Russia, to move ahead on a UN Security Council resolution.

It’s Time for Mahmoud Abbas to Go — “There’s a growing climate of fear.”

January 28, 2018
Credit Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Elie Shamaa is the kind of young man Palestine needs. A tech specialist working for an international organization in the West Bank, he’s fluent in English and is completing an M.B.A. through an American program in Ramallah. But he’s had it. He sees his future elsewhere. “People reached a point where they know they are losing their life,” he told me.

We spoke as we drove north from Ramallah to Nablus. Hilltop Israeli settlements, controlling the line of sight, loomed into view at every turn, the ubiquitous red-roofed stamp of a half-century of occupation. As we passed through an Israeli checkpoint, Shamaa murmured, “In one minute they can close anything; in one minute they can open anything.” Planning is impossible for the three million Palestinians in the West Bank. Their lives must bend to Israeli whim.

Never, through decades of national struggle, have the Palestinians been weaker. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel has been implacable in undermining possible Palestinian statehood. Arab states, Iran-obsessed, have lost interest in the Palestinian cause. President Trump has threatened to cut off “hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support” in response to perceived Palestinian lèse-majesté after his decision to take Jerusalem “off the table” by recognizing it as Israel’s capital.

But even in this environment, Mahmoud Abbas, the 82-year-old Palestinian president, cannot escape responsibility for failure. His government is now widely seen as a corrupt gerontocracy. It is inept, remote, self-serving and ever more authoritarian. Elected to a four-year term in January 2005, he’s entering the 14th year of a largely unaccountable presidency.

Crippling divisions between his Fatah movement and Hamas in Gaza persist beneath a veneer of “reconciliation.” To a population whose median age is about 20, Abbas and his cronies look like the past. Of the 18 elected members of the Fatah Central Committee, only one is under 50. Most of them live very well even as many Palestinians dismiss them as Israel’s lap dogs because of their close security and intelligence cooperation with Israel.

“There’s a growing climate of fear,” said Darin Hussein, the country manager for a nongovernmental organization encouraging sports for Palestinian children. “You can be arrested for posting anything critical on social media.” In her mid-30s, she, too, has hit bottom. “Nothing is going to change,” she told me.

Abbas has stamped on a free press at a time when strong investigative journalism in Israel has contributed to Netanyahu’s woes over corruption allegations. He issued a grotesque cybercrime law last summer that punishes with a year of imprisonment anyone who creates a website that “aims to publish news that would endanger the integrity of the Palestinian state” or “the public order.” The legislation, which also imposes a two-year sentence on anyone publishing information “with the intent to attack any family principles or values,” amounts to a violation of the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003. This guarantees the right of everyone to “express his opinion and to circulate it orally, in writing, or in any form of expression.” Putative Palestine is in a repressive slide.

The president has also undermined an independent judiciary. Over multiple objections, Abbas has appointed a Constitutional Court, pliant to his will. This was a means to circumvent the High Court and lift the immunity of several members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or Parliament, which has not convened for more than a decade. The maneuver was aimed against his arch political rival, Muhammad Dahlan, who lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates. Dahlan has been sentenced to prison on corruption charges.

Khalil Shikaki is a respected Palestinian pollster. He runs the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which receives funding from the European Union. Now, he told me, the Abbas government has blocked access to the money in an illegal attempt to force the think tank to close down.

“Power has corrupted Abbas,” Shikaki said. “He’s destroyed the judiciary, and he’s destroying the plurality of civil society. The cybercrime law is worthy of Saddam Hussein.”

A Palestinian from the Jalazoun refugee camp at a crossroads in Ramallah, in front of the Israeli settlement of Beit El. Credit Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Of course, Abbas’s cover is the Israeli occupation, with its unrelenting settlement growth and use of military force. Electricity comes and goes. Access to water is intermittent. The same journey can take one hour or 12. Families may be dragged from their homes. To get a permit to go to Ben-Gurion airport, or visit a relative in Gaza, can be an endless headache. Little humiliations multiply.

In these circumstances, with Netanyahu veering right and his ministers talking openly of annexation of parts of the West Bank, European governments are reluctant to criticize Abbas. His two sons, Tareq and Yasser, are known to have large business interests. Their privileged position has attracted international scrutiny.

If Palestine has slipped backward toward opacity and one-man rule since former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s transformative push for transparency ended in 2013, the argument goes, that’s just the collateral damage of the occupation. With Israel at his throat, what could Abbas do?

“We are not out of touch,” Muhammad Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, told me. “But we are unable to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people due to the Israeli occupation. Our failures are not due to any mistakes.”

Such arguments fall short. By dismantling Palestinian freedoms, by disempowering his people, Abbas has been undoing the foundations of statehood and sapping the energy that comes with personal agency. It is time to organize elections that might usher in younger leadership — and reveal the balance of forces in the West Bank and Gaza. The alternative is a drift to despotism under a bunch of old men long on outrage but short on everything else.

“If you don’t take agency in your liberation, you are not going to be free,” Fayyad told me. “What Palestinians see of their state right now is not very attractive.”

Abbas remains committed to a two-state outcome. But belief in a two-state peace is dwindling. Shikaki, the pollster, told me that Palestinian support for two states is now about 46 percent, down from about 80 percent in the mid-1990s. Still, he said, a two-state solution remains viable. Surveys show that various incentives — like the release of prisoners for Palestinians, or a wider peace with the Arab world for Israelis — can quickly shift opinion.

Sooner or later, whether in the next several months through an indictment or later through the ballot box, Netanyahu will be gone. It’s idle to think any successor will easily cede territory for peace. Yet it’s possible; it’s happened before. Trump, too, will be gone one day. Abbas could live on for several years, but the damage he is doing the Palestinian cause is such that he should quit now if he is not prepared to organize an election in 2018.

In the current vacuum, a dream of one state with equal rights for all peoples — a kind of United States of the Holy Land — has gained some traction. It is pure, if seductive, illusion — flimsy code for the destruction of Israel as the national homeland of the Jews. It will not happen.

Trump’s instinct to blow up the status quo is dangerous. So is Abbas’ comfort with that status quo. It corrodes. The threat from Trump to cut off aid could leave millions of Palestinian refugees without access to schools or hospitals. That’s unacceptable. But it’s equally unacceptable that Arab states only contribute about 3.5 percent of the budget of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians refugees, compared with the American contribution of about 25 percent. The “peace process,” unable to resolve the refugee issue, has become an infernal, corrupted mechanism incubating victimhood and masking myriad abuses. The Palestinian Authority is its poster child.

“The Palestinian Authority is a subcontractor to the occupation,” Issa Amro, a human-rights activist in Hebron told me. “Abbas should stop corruption and start organizing an election.”

The road from Ramallah to Nablus winds from “Area A,” which is under Palestinian control, through “Area C,” the 60 percent of the West Bank under direct Israeli rule: the lexicon of the moribund Oslo Accords endures. A settler, Rabbi Raziel Shevach, had been shot dead near Nablus a few days before my visit, a killing applauded by Hamas. Young settlers with the hilltop look — large kippas and side locks — milled around the roadside as a squad of Israeli soldiers tried to keep them away from Palestinians: just another day in the West Bank.

In Nablus, with its beautiful covered market, I met Saed Abu-Hijleh, a 52-year-old university professor and poet. In 2002, Israeli forces killed his mother. He raised his shirt to reveal scars from bullet wounds. Wandering through the market, he saluted friends, all of whom seem to have been in prison with him at one time or another. He describes Israel as a “colonial apartheid state” built on the “perpetuation of violence and dehumanization.”

That’s Abu-Hijleh’s lived Palestinian truth. The family of the murdered Shevach has its lived Jewish truth. Everybody has a lived truth between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. Perhaps those truths are irreconcilable. Without creative leadership, they certainly are. Abu-Hijleh continued: “After the slap they got from Trump, the Palestinian Authority should resign and organize elections. They put their eggs in the American basket for 25 years, and all they got is humiliation.”

It is time for Abbas to go, before the bright young Palestinians like Elie Shamaa, the young tech specialist, all go from their occupied land.

Mahmoud Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

January 22, 2018

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, right, welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival at the EU Council in Brussels. (AP) Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
BRUSSELS: The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini assured President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting in Brussels on Monday that the EU supported his ambition to have East Jerusalem as capital of a Palestinian state.
Abbas in return repeated his call for East Jerusalem as capital as he urged the EU member nations to recognize a state of Palestine immediately, arguing that this would not disrupt negotiations with Israel on a peace settlement for the region.
Mogherini, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel, called on those involved in the process to speak and act “wisely,” with a sense of responsibility.
Abbas made no reference to Trump’s move on Jerusalem or to comments on the issue made on Monday in Jerusalem by US Vice President Mike Pence.

Pence, on Israel visit, meets Netanyahu

January 22, 2018

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on Monday, the second day of a visit to Israel that has been boycotted by the Palestinians.

The two men made no comment as Netanyahu welcomed Pence to his office in Jerusalem, where the U.S. vice president reviewed an Israeli honor guard.

It is the highest-level U.S. visit to the region since President Donald Trump on Dec. 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promised to begin the process of moving the American embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Outraged at Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, a move that reversed decades of U.S. policy on the city’s status, the Palestinians are snubbing Pence. President Mahmoud Abbas left for an overseas visit before the vice president’s arrival.

Nor is Pence, an evangelical Christian who has been vocal on the subject of protecting Christians in the Middle East, scheduled to make any private trips to Palestinian areas such as Bethlehem, a city whose Christian significance usually draws Western dignitaries.

U.S. officials have said an embassy move from Tel Aviv could take up to three years. But there has been speculation that Pence could announce a stop-gap arrangement, such as the conversion of one of the U.S. consulate buildings in Jerusalem to a de facto embassy.

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (C) stands next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) during a formal reception ceremony at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Netanyahu has said he expected at least an interim arrangement to go into effect very soon, perhaps within a year.

Trump has made no firm public commitment on timing, saying: “By the end of the year? We’re talking about different scenarios – I mean, obviously, that would be on a temporary basis.”

Palestinians want East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as capital of their own future state. Israel regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

With the Palestinians boycotting Pence, the visit provides little obvious opportunity to build bridges towards peace.

But it gave Pence and Netanyahu, a right-winger who has hailed U.S. evangelicals for their support of Israel, an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the visit and their own warm relationship for a conservative American Christian community that serves as a power base for Trump and his vice president.

Later on Monday, Pence will address the Israeli parliament, whose Arab members said they would boycott the event. On Tuesday, he will attend Judaism’s Western Wall in Jerusalem and lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center in the city.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams; Editing by Stephen Farrell

EU ministers, Abbas to study ways to back two-state solution

January 22, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a conference on Jerusalem at the Al-Azhar Conference Center, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. (AP)
BRUSSELS: The European Union’s top diplomat says EU foreign ministers will study ways to support a two-state solution in Israel and the Palestinian territories in talks Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Federica Mogherini said that the EU is working “to support an international framework to accompany direct negotiations” despite the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem, which the Palestinians also see as their future capital, broke with international consensus on the best way forward in Middle East peace moves.
Mogherini told reporters that “clearly there is a problem with Jerusalem. I would say that this is a very diplomatic euphemism.”
She said “the only pragmatic, realistic solution for Jerusalem has to come through direct negotiations.”


Israel Frets Over Hamas’ New Front – Hamas and Hezbollah working in unison

January 21, 2018

The ‘sudden friendship’ between a senior Hamas official and Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has Israel’s defense chief on his toes

Hamas militants attend a funeral in the Gaza Strip, January 12, 2018.
Hamas militants attend a funeral in the Gaza Strip, January 12, 2018.\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

A week ago, a Hamas operative, Mohammed Hamdan, was injured in an explosion while he was getting into his car in Sidon in southern Lebanon. Lebanese media outlets accused Israel of an assassination attempt. Israel, as usual, refrained from commenting, except for a wisecrack by Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz, who said in a radio interview that if this had been an Israeli operation, the man would not have come out alive.

But meanwhile, it is Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has been alluding to events in Lebanon in statements he’s made over the past few days. Lieberman did not specifically mention the assassination attempt. But while visiting a soldier injured in a clash in Jenin, Lieberman said on Friday that Hamas, “which is finding it difficult to launch operations from the Gaza Strip, is in a very tough spot. It is therefore trying to open new fronts…first and foremost in southern Lebanon.”

Lieberman added: “What should be worrisome is their attempt to develop terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon and also trying from there to threaten Israelall this sudden friendship between the senior Hamas representative, Salah Arouri, and [HezbollahSecretary General Hassan] Nasrallah, is something we’re watching carefully and any developments there will be met with an appropriate response.”

Image result for Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech. (photo credit REUTERS), photos

Hassan Nasrallah

Arouri, who according to Israel is Hamas’ coordinator of terror attacks abroad, and is also in charge of deploying Hamas terror squads in the West Bank from the outside, has for the past year been shuttling between Qatar and Turkey. He left the West Bank in 2010 after he was released from lengthy administrative detention. The Shin Bet security service consented to his release on condition that he leave the territories. Since then he’s been moving between various countries in the region – Jordan, Syria and Turkey, settling eventually in Qatar. After Israeli complaints and American pressure on Qatar, Arouri moved to Lebanon, although he sometimes stays in Qatar.

Already as early as 2014 Hamas was reportedly interested in using the refugee camps in southern Lebanon to create another front from which to threaten Israel in a confrontation. During the conflict between Israel and Gaza in the summer of that year, a few rockets were indeed fired at the Galilee from southern Lebanon.

Nasrallah also addressed the car bomb incident in a speech on Friday. “All signs indicate that Israel is responsible for the explosion in Sidon,” Nasrallah said, adding: “There must be no compromise about this and Israel must not be allowed to play freely in the Lebanese court. The incident marks a dangerous beginning on the security level in Lebanon.”

The Lebanese press reported over the weekend that the country’s intelligence services identified the suspects in the action – including a Lebanese citizen who lives in the Netherlands and had already fled Lebanon – and that they found two vehicles that allegedly belong to the assassins. In November, the Lebanese media also reported the arrest of a Lebanese citizen in the south, on suspicion of spying for Israel.

In the middle of the last decade, a series of assassinations of Palestinian terrorists took place in Lebanon that were attributed to Israel. It was claimed at the time that the perpetrators were Lebanese locals deployed by Israeli intelligence. In 2008, the Lebanese authorities uncovered a large network of Lebanese citizens arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel for years.

West Bank coordination

Lieberman also said on Friday that Hamas was seeking alternative fronts to the Gaza Strip, where Israel believes that the organization’s leadership does not want a direct military confrontation at this time. Efforts are still underway in the West Bank to apprehend one of the suspected members of the terror squad that murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach of the Havat Gilad outpost earlier this month. One of the members of the squad was killed in the clash in Jenin and two other suspects were arrested. The Shin Bet security service said it believes the fourth suspect managed to elude them.

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Mahmoud Abbas

The squad, whose members come from Jenin, was established by members of various organizations and included a Hamas man. It seems that the organizations’ commands outside the West Bank are allowing their operatives to collaborate in an effort to increase terror attacks in the area, in places under the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. Despite PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ belligerent speeches in recent weeks, security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian organizations that answer to Abbas is continuing.

Mike Pence Travels To The Middle East: “He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region.”

January 20, 2018

Ayman Odeh says Israel’s Arab coalition party will boycott Vice President Pence speech to Israelis, calling Trump a ‘racist political pyromaniac’

.FILE PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence waves as he walks on Capitol Hill in Washington
FILE PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence waves as he walks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit Susan Walsh/AP

The head of Israel’s Arab coalition party has vowed to boycott the flash visit by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, expected to arrive in Israel on Sunday  evening.

“We were asked if there’s a change in our position regarding Pence’s visit,” Joint Arab List chairman, lawmaker Ayman Odeh, wrote on Twitter. “He is a dangerous man with a messianic vision that includes the destruction of the entire region.

“He comes here as the emissary of a man who is even more dangerous,” Odeh wrote in reference to U.S. President Trump, who he called a “a political pyromaniac, a racist misogynist who cannot be allowed to be lead the way in our region.

“The entire Joint List will boycott his speech in the plenum,” Odeh wrote regarding Pence’s planned speech on Monday in the Knesset.

>> U.S. Vice President Pence’s visit to Israel: Here’s the full itinerary <<

Pence embarked Saturday on a trip to the Middle East, despite a U.S. government shutdown. His spokeswoman explained that that Pence’s meetings with Egypt, Jordan and Israel are “integral to America’s national security and diplomatic objectives.” 
Pence was originally supposed to arrive to the area in December, but the White House delayed his visit by a month as a result of the vote in Congress over the Republican tax plan. Over the last few days, rumors circulated that his trip might again be delayed once again because of the internal political crisis in Washington that led to the government shutdown on Saturday, but the White House made it clear that the trip would not be postponed.
Pence landed in Egypt on Saturday, and will then travel to Jordan. He is expected to arrive in Israel Sunday evening. He will then spend a day and a half in Israel, before flying back to the United States Tuesday afternoon. During his time in Israel, he will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, visit the Western Wall and give a speech in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem. 
The White House originally presented Pence’s trip as focused on supporting Christian communities in the Middle East. The trip was supposed to include a stop in Bethlehem and a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinians declared that Pence, who played an important role in the policy change, is “not welcome” in Bethlehem
As a result, Pence will not meet any Palestinians during his visit – and according to an official schedule released by the Israeli government, there are no meetings planned with Christian leaders. A number of Christian leaders in the Middle East, including in Egypt, declared that they will refuse to meet with Pence because of the Trump administration’s “hostility” towards the Palestinians. 
The schedule released by the Israeli government suggests that Pence’s visit to the Western Wall, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and therefore is not recognized by the world as part of Israel, will take place without the presence of any Israeli political leaders, just like the visit Trump made to the holy site in May. Pence will be accompanied only by the rabbi in charge of the site, and the media arrangements will be handled by the American embassy in Israel, not the Israeli government press office.