Posts Tagged ‘Shin Bet’

Israel says arrests Palestinian suspect in deadly shootings

January 8, 2019

Israeli forces arrested overnight a Palestinian accused of shooting dead two soldiers in the occupied West Bank last month and involvement in another attack that caused a baby’s death, authorities said Tuesday.

Assam Barghouti is accused of shooting the soldiers at a bus stop near the Givat Assaf settlement in the Ramallah area on December 13, police said.

At least two other people — including another soldier — were wounded, the army said at the time.

Israel’s domestic security service, the Shin Bet, also accused him of involvement along with his brother in another shooting attack nearby, close to the Ofra settlement, that caused the death of a baby and wounded seven.

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian protesters during an incursion into the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 7, 2019

Israeli soldiers clash with Palestinian protesters during an incursion into the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 7, 2019.  AFP

In the December 9 shooting, a pregnant woman was seriously wounded and her baby was born prematurely and later died.

Barghouti’s brother, Salah, 29, was killed during an arrest raid on December 12.

Asem (L) and Salih (R) Barghouti at a rally in Kobar after the former was released from Israeli prison in April 2018 (screenshot: Twitter)

Asem (L) and Salih (R) Barghouti at a rally in Kobar after the former was released from Israeli prison in April 2018 (screenshot: Twitter)

The armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, had claimed Salah Barghouti as one of its “fighters.”

The attacks boosted tensions and led to Israeli raids in parts of the West Bank, including in Ramallah, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has his base, triggering Palestinian protests.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter saluted the arrest of a “vile terrorist”.


Jewish settlers and their right-wing supporters had held angry demonstrations over the December attacks.

A Kalachnikov assault rifle, magazines full of ammunition and night-vision equipment, which Israeli security forces believe a Palestinian terrorist, Asem Barghouti, was planning to use in an attack, found during an arrest raid in the West Bank village of Kobar on January 8, 2019. (Israel Police)

Assaf Barghouti was arrested at the home of an alleged accomplice in the West Bank village of Abu Shukheidim near Ramallah and was allegedly preparing more attacks, the Shin Bet said.

An AK-47 rifle, night-vision equipment and ammunition were seized during his arrest, according to the Shin Bet.


 A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. The two were killed on December 13, 2018, in a terrorist shooting attack outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)
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Israel encircles Ramallah after West Bank attack

December 13, 2018

Israeli forces encircled Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Thursday and sent in reinforcements after a gunman shot dead two Israelis at a bus stop in the area, the army said.

The military was sending “a few more infantry battalions” to conduct operations in the West Bank. (File/AFP)

“Entrances and exits to the city are all closed. We are conducting searches,” army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists.

He said the military was sending “a few more infantry battalions” to conduct operations in the West Bank.



A poster published by Hamas claiming the December 9, 2108, Ofra terror attack and praising the 'martyr' Salih Barghouti, posted on Hamas's official Twitter account, December 12, 2108. (Twitter)

A poster published by Hamas claiming the December 9, 2108, Ofra terror attack and praising the ‘martyr’ Salih Barghouti, posted on Hamas’s official Twitter account, December 12, 2108. (Twitter)

Hamas claims deadly Ofra terror attack after Israel kills suspected shooter

December 13, 2018

Hamas says Salih Barghouti carried out the shooting attack and hails him as a ‘heroic martyr’; he shot a pregnant woman resulting in the death of her baby

A poster published by Hamas claiming the December 9, 2108, Ofra terror attack and praising the 'martyr' Salih Barghouti, posted on Hamas's official Twitter account, December 12, 2108. (Twitter)

A poster published by Hamas claiming the December 9, 2108, Ofra terror attack and praising the ‘martyr’ Salih Barghouti, posted on Hamas’s official Twitter account, December 12, 2108. (Twitter)

The Hamas terror group early Thursday claimed credit for the deadly shooting attack outside the Ofra settlement earlier this week, saying the suspect shot dead by Israeli forces several hours earlier was one of its members.

“Hamas announces with great pride the death of its martyr Salih Omar Barghouti, the perpetrator of the heroic Ofra operation,” the terror group wrote on its official Twitter account early Thursday morning.

While Hamas claimed Barghouti, it did not specifically say that it orchestrated the attack.

Seven people were wounded in the drive-by shooting attack on a bus stop outside of Ofra on Sunday night, including a 30-weeks pregnant woman who was seriously injured. The baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died earlier Wednesday.

Barghouti, 29 and a resident of Kobar, a village near Ramallah, was killed Wednesday evening after he tried to attack troops while escaping arrest and was shot, the Shin Bet security agency said, adding that he was believed to have carried out the Ofra terror attack.

Four other people suspected of being involved in the attack were arrested, the Shin Bet also said.

Palestinian news outlets said Barghouti was killed when troops opened fire on a taxi he was traveling in on a road in the town of Surda, a village also near Ramallah.

For the past three days, soldiers have been carrying out intensive searches for suspects involved in the terror attack.

Image of Salih Barghouti posted on Hamas’s official Twitter account. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The announcement of Barghouti’s death and the arrests took place shortly after the funeral for the newborn, and after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed the army would catch those involved in the attack.

Late Wednesday, troops also raided a home in Kobar belonging to Barghouti’s family and surrounded a building in Ramallah, according to Palestinian reports.

Clashes subsequently broke out between the troops and young Palestinians near the home in Kobar, according to the official PA news site Wafa. 

During the clashes, two Palestinians were injured by live fire, Wafa reported.

Pictures shared on social media appeared to show an IDF vehicle towing a white car that seemed to match a vehicle seen on security video of the terror attack, from which the shots were fired at the bus station in Ofra.

In security video showing the terror attack, a white car can be seen opening fire as it passes by the bus stop. A taxi traveling alongside the white car was suspected of being involved in the shooting as well.

Barghouti worked for the Rafideen taxi company, an employee at the company told The Times of Israel. The company is based in Ramallah. He had worked the past three days, according to the employee, who asked to remain unnamed.

Earlier, hundreds of mourners gathered at Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives cemetery Wednesday night for the funeral of a newborn.

The infant, born after Sunday’s shooting by emergency C-section, was pronounced dead earlier in the day by doctors at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem after several days in intensive care.

Some 300 hundred people crowded around the fresh gravesite on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City, using umbrellas to shield the baby’s tiny body, wrapped in a prayer shawl and smaller than a shoe box, from the steadily falling rain.

Relatives of Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran attend the funeral of their baby, who was born prematurely after his mother was wounded in a terror attack outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, at Mount of Olives ceremony in Jerusalem on December 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel, Flash90)

Barely able to speak between sobs, grandfather Refael Ish-Ran said despite the baby’s short life, few people had “managed to unite the nation of Israel” like he had.

“You brought so much light. And with all the light that you brought, we will extinguish their darkness,” he said in his eulogy.

The baby’s parents, Shira and Amichai Ish-Ran, were both recovering from gunshot wounds at the hospital and unable to attend the funeral. Shira, who was 30 weeks pregnant at the time of the shooting, was seriously wounded in the shooting, but doctors said Wednesday her condition was improving.

Shortly before the burial, the baby underwent a symbolic circumcision and was named Amiad Yisrael. The parents had only been able to visit the baby on Wednesday morning.


Israeli tech helped Saudis kill journalist, Snowden tells Tel Aviv confab

November 7, 2018

Fugitive NSA leaker lambastes Israel’s NSO Group as ‘the worst of the worst,’ is rebuked by former Mossad official who now works in the surveillance industry

Edward Snowden speaks to journalists and invited guests at a Tel Aviv event produced by the Orenstein Hoshen PR agency (Courtesy)

Edward Snowden speaks to journalists and invited guests at a Tel Aviv event produced by the Orenstein Hoshen PR agency (Courtesy)

In a video address Tuesday to a group of Israeli journalists and other guests, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden slammed Israel’s burgeoning cyber-surveillance industry, singling out the Herzliya-based company NSO Group for his harshest criticism.

Suggesting a link between the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi use of NSO Group’s Pegasus software, Snowden asked the Israeli audience, “How is it that we have… industries in developed countries using their powers not for saving lives but for making money to such an extent and to such a level of recklessness and irresponsibility that it actually starts costing lives?”

Snowden described Israel’s NSO Group as “the worst of the worst” of cyber-surveillance companies, and said its “entire business is based on the idea of developing digital burglary tools.”

Snowden spoke to an invited audience via videolink from Moscow at a Tel Aviv event organized by an Israeli public relations agency Orenstein Hoshen. The audience was composed mainly of journalists along with clients and well-wishers of the PR firm.

The NSO Group has been the subject of much controversy in recent years, with Canadian internet watchdog Citizen Lab claiming that the Pegasus software marketed by the company is being used by a number of countries “with dubious human rights records and histories of abusive behavior by state security services.”

Pegasus infects individuals’ phones by sending them text messages that tempt them to click an attached link. If the target clicks on the link, the company gains full control over the phone, including its contents and history, and the ability to activate its microphone and camera at will.

“The NSO Group is an Israeli company,” Snowden told the Tel Aviv audience. “It’s based out of Herzliya. To a lot of people in the audience that makes this a lot less scary; a lot of the fear deflates, because you trust your industry more than others.”

Journalists and other invited guests gather at Tel Aviv confab to hear Edward Snowden and former deputy Mossad head Ram Ben-Barak (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

But Snowden prodded the audience to consider how Israeli cyber-surveillance tools are being used to do harm abroad.

“In today’s world, [NSO Group] are the worst of the worst in selling these burglary tools that are being actively currently used to violate the human rights of dissidents, opposition figure and activists, to some pretty bad players,” he said.

Snowden described NSO Group’s activity as a “kind of predation.”

“They’re sending links to Mexican journalists, to media figures, to people in law enforcement, public health officials, and anti-corruption groups. How? It’s not like this company in Herzliya even knows who these people are. But they don’t care, because it’s not their problem.”

Snowden told the audience that there was reason to believe the NSO Group’s Pegasus software is connected to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

“How did they know what his intentions were? How did they decide he was someone they needed to act against that he was worth the risk?” he asked.

“And the reality was they had bugged one of his friends and contacts using software created by an Israeli company. We don’t know the chain of consequence because this company will never comment on this, but it’s one of the major stories not being written about.”

Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency, leaked thousands of classified documents to the press in 2013 that revealed the vast scope of surveillance of private data put in place after the 9/11 attacks.

He has lived in exile ever since.

The United States has charged him with espionage and theft of state secrets, but Snowden said he still loves his country and hopes to return someday.

He also told the audience that it is an open secret that Israel spies on the US.

“Israel has a real leg up in technology, in particular in these kinds of offensive operations. Even the NSA realizes that we get hacked by the Israelis. When we file our counterintelligence priorities matrix, it’s always the same four — China, Russia, Israel and France,” he said. “If I were going to put them in a ranking I would put Israel above France.”

‘Nothing to hide, nothing to worry about’

After Snowden, Ram Ben-Barak, former deputy director of the Mossad, offered a stinging rebuttal to Snowden’s remarks.

“How nice to be liberal, to say lovely things about freedom of speech,” said Ben-Barak sarcastically. “If you ask me, my impression is he is a young and very talented guy who apparently felt he wasn’t getting enough attention so he decided to take action so he could get attention.”

Ben-Barak accused Snowden of exposing American secrets and exposing its covert operatives to dangers.

“I think he’s very lucky that he stole information from the Americans and not the Russians,” he said. “If he had stolen from the Russians he would find himself with a polonium pill deep in his stomach.”

Ram Ben-Barak, former deputy director of the Mossad (Assaf Feuerstein)

Ben-Barak is the director of a cyber-surveillance company, The Fifth Dimension, funded in part by Russian-linked venture capital firm Columbus Nova. He is also a board member of Cyabra, a company that offers to help clients identify fake internet profiles.

Several of Cyabra’s senior executives have also worked at Psy-Group, a company reportedly under investigation by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller for alleged offers to meddle in US elections.

Ben-Barak told the audience that cyber-surveillance technologies have been instrumental in thwarting terror attacks.

“Two years ago, there were stabbings here on a daily basis. This isn’t something we can fight with methods of 20 years ago,” he said. “I don’t think citizens who have nothing to hide have anything to worry about. The government doesn’t survey everyone. And the system’s purpose is to protect you and us. We stopped most of the knife attacks with this kind of technology.”

Israel thwarts 40 terror attacks a month, Ben-Barak told the audience, echoing comments made earlier in the day by the head of the Shin Bet domestic security service.

“Do you realize what this country would be like if the Shin Bet wasn’t doing an excellent job preventing 40 terror attacks a month? Would this place be livable? Would our democracy look the way it does?”

Agencies contributed to this report.


Israel could enact death penalty for convicted Palestinian killers of Israeli civilians and soldiers

November 5, 2018

PM reportedly tells lawmakers that opposition from the security establishment shouldn’t stall controversial bill championed by defense minister

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF's West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visit the IDF’s West Bank Division, near the Israeli settlement of Beit El, on January 10, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the go-ahead Sunday for lawmakers to advance a controversial bill calling for the death penalty for convicted Palestinian killers of Israeli civilians and soldiers, reportedly rejecting the advice of the security establishment.

Meeting coalition party heads to set the legislative agenda for the week, the prime minister said there was nothing preventing the proposal, which has been stalled since January, from being put to Knesset votes and becoming law.

Netanyahu told coalition heads that opposition from both the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces should not prevent lawmakers from advancing the bill, Israel Radio reported Monday morning.

Although the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law, it has only ever been used once — in 1962 in the case of Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust. It is technically allowed in cases of high treason, as well as in certain circumstances under the martial law that applies within the IDF and in the West Bank, but currently requires a unanimous decision from a panel of three judges, and has never been implemented.

The bill, proposed by Yisrael Beytenu and championed by the party’s chairman, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, would allow a simple majority of two to one judges to impose the  death penalty.

Liberman said at the opening the of Knesset’s winter session last month that the passage of the bill was a condition for his party to remain in the coalition.

The prime minister’s authorization, first reported by Israel Radio, came after Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the chairman of the Jewish Home party, requested that the bill be advanced, the minister’s spokesman confirmed to The Times of Israel, following accusations by Liberman that the party was holding up the legislation.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman (back) and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett (front) seen during a Knesset session on May 11, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Sunday, Bennett, whose religious-nationalist Jewish Home will battle with Liberman’s secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu over the votes of many hawkish Israelis in the upcoming Knesset elections, accused the defense minister of “ruining Israel’s deterrence” against Palestinian terror attacks.

Bennett was referring to a separate bill pushed by his party, proposing to transfer families of terror convicts away from their home communities and resettle then elsewhere in the West Bank as a punitive measure.

“What Liberman isn’t willing to do via the Defense Ministry, we will do today via legislation,” Bennett tweeted. “Over the last two years, Liberman ruined Israel’s deterrence. Terrorists aren’t afraid. They know their homes won’t be demolished, that their families will receive NIS 12,000 ($3,250) per month [from the Palestinian Authority] and they will be glorified as martyrs.”

He added that his party would present the bill for a vote in the Knesset plenum on Sunday, so that terrorists “will be afraid again.”

In response, Liberman’s party said it would “support any bill that aids the fight against terror.” But, he said, “that doesn’t change the fact that the Jewish Home has for about a year been thwarting the passage” of the death penalty bill.

That legislation won initial backing in a January preliminary reading in the Knesset, despite some coalition lawmakers expressing reservations over the legislation. Its progress since then has been repeatedly delayed due to opposition from the security establishment.

Following Sunday’s decision, it will now face deliberations in the Knesset’s Constitution and Law Committee before being brought to a vote in the plenary.


Israel reopens Gaza crossings as relative calm holds

October 21, 2018

Defense minister says he will consider allowing Qatari-bought fuel into Strip in the coming days, following decrease in border clashes

Protesters near the Gaza Strip border with Israel east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, October 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Protesters near the Gaza Strip border with Israel east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, October 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel reopened the crossings into the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning, allowing people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave, following a decrease in the amount of violence along the border

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said the decision was made in consultation with officials from the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet security service and the liaison unit to the Palestinians, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The defense minister’s office said a decision had yet to be made about allowing a supply of fuel that was purchased by Qatar into the coastal enclave.

“The decision… was postponed at this time and will be considered in a few days, depending on incidents [along the border],” Liberman’s office said.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter Kerem Shalom cargo crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The defense minister ordered the pedestrian Erez Crossing and Kerem Shalom goods crossing closed last Wednesday, after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and another landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area.

In response to the rocket strike, the Israeli military launched a wave of air raids, bombing some 20 targets in the coastal enclave, including a border-crossing attack tunnel, the army said.

In the following days, Egypt and the United Nations were said to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip — one that neither side officially acknowledged.

However, the past weekend saw a significant decrease in the amount of violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, both in terms of the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.

The IDF said a number of explosives and grenades were set off during clashes on Friday and that Palestinians broke through the fence in three locations before immediately returning to the coastal enclave, with soldiers opening fire at the suspects in one case.

However, Israeli defense officials described the demonstrations as some of the quietest since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinian protesters across the Gaza border on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz (Jack Guez/AFP)

“Unlike past weeks, most of the rioters remained at a distance and did not try to reach the fence. Hamas acted for restraint on the ground,” the military said.

On Friday and Saturday, Israeli military aircraft also fired warning shots at two groups of Palestinians who were launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip, sparking a number of blazes in the area near the coastal enclave.

On Thursday and Friday, leaders of the border protests had told participants to keep away from the security fence and to not behave violently — statements not released in previous weeks.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 130 Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, including 77 by live fire.

The IDF said some 10,000 people took part in the protests. It sent text messages on Friday to residents of the coastal enclave, warning them not to approach the fence, Palestinians said.

Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes and was working toward curbing violence at the rallies, which have become a near-daily occurrence, Hadashot TV news reported Friday.

Jerusalem believes the terror group is moderating the demonstrations in order to allow Egyptian mediators a chance to strike a deal between Hamas and Israel for a long-term truce in Gaza, the report said.

From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

US team asked Abbas about Jordan-Palestinian confederation: NGO

September 2, 2018

US officials working on a Middle East peace plan have asked Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas about forming a confederation with Jordan, Abbas told activists Sunday, according to one of them.

Abbas recounted the conversation he had with White House aides Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt during a meeting with Israeli peace activists in Ramallah, said Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now NGO, who attended.

According to Ofran, Abbas said he told the US officials he would only be interested if Israel was also part of such a confederation.

© AFP/File | Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 15, 2018

It was not clear when the conversation took place, though Abbas has declined to meet with the White House since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

Abbas’s office confirmed Sunday’s meeting with the peace activists, but not the comments on the confederation.

Israeli media also reported Abbas’s comments on the confederation proposal. Ofran said Abbas did not go into further detail.

A Palestinian-Jordan confederation has been favoured by some on the Israeli right as a way to avoid granting full state status to the Palestinians for now.

In such an arrangement, Israel could also avoid taking responsibility for the some 3.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas’s response was essentially a way of torpedoing the proposal since Israel would likely not agree to join such an arrangement, Ofran told AFP.

“He did say that Kushner and Greenblatt came to him and asked ‘would you agree to a confederation with Jordan’,” Ofran said, stressing she was paraphrasing his remarks.

“And he said, ‘I will agree to a confederation with Jordan and with Israel only.'”

Abbas meets occasionally with Israeli peace activists and left-wing politicians.

Sunday’s meeting included members of Peace Now and other organisations, as well as two Israeli parliament members.

Palestinian leaders see US President Donald Trump’s administration as blatantly biased in favour of Israel.

In addition to the Jerusalem recognition, Washington last week announced it was ending funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The previous week, it announced it was cancelling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians.

Trump has pledged to unveil a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, saying he wanted to reach the “ultimate deal”.

His son-in-law Kushner has been among those working on the plan.

Ofran said Abbas also spoke of the right of return for Palestinian refugees during Sunday’s meeting, long a major issue in peace efforts.

She said Abbas told the meeting that he would not push for a solution for refugees that would “destroy Israel,” but for a compromise that could be agreed upon.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

They and their descendants are now classified as refugees and Palestinian leaders continue to call for at least some of them to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

Israel says Palestinians must give up the so-called right of return.



Abbas voices support for tripartite ‘confederation’ with Israel and Jordan

September 2, 2018

In meeting with Israeli peace activists, PA leader appears to dramatically depart from longstanding insistence on a two-state solution

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president's assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president’s assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has voiced interest in a tripartite confederation with Jordan and Israel, in what would appear a dramatic departure from his longstanding insistence on a two-state solution, according to Israeli peace activists and a Palestinian official.

According to the dovish Peace Now group, a senior delegation of which met Abbas on Sunday in Ramallah, the Palestinian leader said senior US administration officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt asked him recently about his opinion of a “confederation with Jordan.”

“‘I said [to Kushner and Greenblatt]: Yes, I want a three-way confederation with Jordan and Israel.’ I asked them if the Israelis would agree to such a proposal,” a statement by Peace Now quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas, 83, reportedly described US President Donald Trump and his Middle East peace envoys as “hostile” to the Palestinian people, citing Washington’s decision to dramatically cut aid.

But Abbas said Trump had assured him of his support for a two-state solution and that he himself was in favor of a demilitarized Palestinian state with NATO securing the agreement, according to Peace Now.

While some Israelis who are opposed to an independent Palestinian state have long suggested some kind of confederation, with or without Jordan, the PA has so far clung to its demand for sovereignty in the framework of a two-state solution.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Abbas’s statements.

The US administration has also not commented on the report.

Mahmoud al-Habash, Abbas’s religious affairs adviser who was present at the meeting, confirmed to The Times of Israel the content of the Peace Now statement.

Peace Now executive director Shaqued Morag with PA President Abbas in Ramallah (right), September 2, 2018 (courtesy Peace Now)

Sunday’s meeting with Abbas was attended by Peace Now executive director Shaqued Morag, Meretz MK Mossi Raz (a former Peace Now director) and Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova.

According to the PA’s official Wafa news agency, “peace activists” from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party attended the meeting as well.

“I have a problem with Netanyahu, not with Likud,” Peace Now quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas further said that the Israeli government refuses to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians, despite the fact that Russia, Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands have repeatedly offered to host peace talks, according to the Peace Now statement.

At the meeting, Abbas also said he supports Israel’s security, underlining that the Palestinian and the Israeli security forces work together “on a daily basis” and that he and his people “do anything possible so that no Israeli gets hurt,” according to Peace Now.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] added that he meets with the head of the Shin Bet [Nadav Argaman] on this subject and emphasized that on security matters the two sides agree on 99 percent of the topics,” the statement said.

An official Palestinian source told The Times of Israel that Abbas has met with the head of the Shin Bet security service more than once in recent months.

Abbas, in the meeting, also criticized the US for its alleged determination “to completely destroy UNRWA,” the international agency caring for thousands of Palestinians considered refugees by much of the international community.

Over the weekend, the US State Department announced the administration will cease funding the agency, a move that was applauded in Israel but condemned by many other countries.

“Seventy percent of Gaza residents are refugees. Most of them live off UNRWA’s assistance,” Abbas told his Israeli guests. “Then President Trump says to cancel UNRWA and give humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. How is it possible that one on the one hand you cancel UNRWA and on the other hand help Palestinian residents?”

Morag, the Peace Now head, told Abbas that there was a “large peace camp” in Israel and that her organization would ask the political parties and the Israeli public to commit themselves to advancing an agreement between the two sides.

Wafa’s report on the meeting did not mention any talk of a confederation.

“Irregardless of the challenges and difficulties in the way of achieving peace, we must make it for the sake of a better future for our children and youth,” Abbas told the Israeli delegation, according to the Palestinian news agency.

“The Palestinian side’s hand is always extended to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on legitimate international resolutions and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he went on.

“Despite all the difficult circumstances surrounding us, we still believe in peace on the basis of resolutions of international legitimacy and the two-state solution.”

Trump officials have said they are finishing their peace plan and working on rolling it out, but have not offered any timeline. Details of the plan have remained firmly under wraps.

Palestinian officials have been boycotting the White House since Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Trump has said he does not necessarily endorse a two-state solution, breaking with decades of US policy and saying in 2017 that he would back whatever formula both sides decide on.

Jordan’s King Abdullah recently warned Trump about the possibility of a one-state solution, according to a Channel 10 report last month, citing French sources.

“Many young Palestinians don’t want the two-state solution anymore, but would rather live together with the Israelis in one state with equal rights for all… The result will be that Israel will lose its Jewish character,” Abdullah reportedly told Trump. Trump reportedly then replied, “What you say makes sense. … [In a one-state scenario,] the prime minister of Israel in a few years will be called Mohammed.”

Also last month, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he saw “no reason to evacuate settlements” in a peace deal, a Likud lawmaker said.

Adam Rasgon and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.


Abbas: Trump’s Team Offered Me to Establish a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation

September 2, 2018

Palestinian President Abbas said he would agree to such an offer only if Israel is a part of the confederation

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, May 3, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, May 3, 2017.Bloomberg

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace team offered him a political plan based on forming a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation.

According to Abbas, he told the administration that he would only agree to such a plan if Israel is part of the suggested confederation.

Abbas spoke in Ramallah at a meeting with Israeli left-wing movement Peace Now and Israeli lawmakers. “I was asked if I believe in a federation with Jordan,” Abbas said about a talk he held with Trump’s aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. “I answered: Yes, I want a confederation with Jordan and Israel. I have asked the Israelis if they would agree to such an offer.”

Abbas also said that the U.S. is “hostile towards the Palestinians and closing down the peace process. The U.S. wants to completely sabotage UNRWA.”

>> Opinion: Trump’s rule-breaking doctrine on the Mideast is an optical illusion

The Palestinian president did not detail the administrative implications of such a plan and what level of autonomy a Palestinian state would have under a Jordanian confederation. According to him, he completely rejected the offer as long as Israel is not mentioned as a party.

In his meeting with Israeli lawmakers, Abbas expressed willingness to agree to a land-swap agreement, but did not clarify what that would entail in terms of a potential evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian president also noted that he meets with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman from time to time.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told members of the American Jewish Congress that “there is no capacity to have peace with the Palestinians unless there’s peace with all the Palestinians, including the million and a half in Gaza.”

Friedman went on to clarify that this “means there should be ideally one government [for the Palestinians]… If you go around the PA and somehow try to restructure Gaza without them, you’re giving a tremendous prize to Hamas… with all the failings of the PA if the choice is Hamas we pick the PA.”

The U.S. ambassador reiterated, as he has publicly on several occasions in the past, that Trump’s administration won’t make Israel suffer negative consequences over the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Friedman also clarified that the only price President Trump is asking the two sides to pay is to demonstrate willingness to advance in peace talks.

Friedman also confirmed a recent statement by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton that the administration did not have an exact deadline for the unveiling of its peace plan, and that it will not be presented at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.

Palestinian flags at Israel nation-state law protest — Plot to kill Hamas leaders?

August 12, 2018

The appearance of Palestinian flags at a protest against the nation-state law has those on the right crowing and those in the center shaking their heads

August 12, 2018
Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law' in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs and Jews protest against the nation-state law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1.Anti-flag: Israelis on the left and right saw the same protest at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against the nation-state law Saturday night, but are drawing very different conclusions.

  • On the right, the appearance of Palestinian flags at the rally proves their point about the need for legislation enshrining the country’s Jewish character, including it’s Star of David flag, in law.
  • “Wrong flag,” reads a headline in Israel Hayom.
  • “With a protest like this, who needs to explain the law,” writes Zvi Hauser, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the same paper, reflecting the view of many in the government (including the prime minister) who spoke out against the flags as exposing the real face of opposition to the law.
  • The nationalist Israel National News website leads its news section with the headline “PLO flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the fact that it doesn’t even mention the flags in the story reflects how it takes for granted that its readers will gather all they need from just those few words.

2. Flag-flogged: And it was not even just the hard right incensed by the flags’ appearance. The populist Yedioth Ahronoth tabloid cover features a picture of a flag and the headline “Palestinians flags in the heart of Tel Aviv,” and the Walla website also notes them in its top headline.

  • Yedioth notes that while there were some Israeli flags, they were outstripped by the number of Palestinian ones. “This is my flag … I have no connection to the Israeli flag,” one protester is quoted saying.
  • The protest also says that some at the protest chanted “with blood and fire we will redeem Palestine.”
  • Mohammed Barakeh, among the organizers of the protest, told ToI’s Adam Rasgon that protesters had been asked not to bring the flags, but had not listened.
  • What results is a tongue-lashing from critics of the law who now feel their protest has been tarred by the Palestinian national symbols.
  • “Organizers made a big mistake by allowing the flags,” former prime minister Ehud Barak wrote on Twitter. He called the flags and chants a “free service” for those backing the nation-state law.
  • “They shot themselves in the flag,” Yoaz Hendel, another former Netanyahu aide, quips in Yedioth. “Those waving Palestinian flags … are not demanding equality or coexistence, but the erasure of the Jewish right of self determination in the state of Israel,” he writes.

3. Identity crisis: What these analyses are missing is the nuance needed to understand the place of the Palestinian flag and other Palestinian national symbols among Israel’s Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, even if they are not necessarily Palestinian nationalists.

  • As a Kafr Qassem teacher told the Christian Science Monitor in 2016, “We don’t have an identity. We are the real refugees. We have a conflict between the national side and civilian side.”
  • A reflection of this unease is the lack of outcry over a protest against the law last week that saw just as many, if not more Druze flags, since Israelis don’t fear any national aspirations by the Druze. Palestinian flags, on the other hand, are viewed with deep distrust because there is a Palestinian movement, thus the reduction of the waving of a flag to a desire to subsume Israel.

4Who’s afraid of the Arabs: “The law sparked an unprecedented mass demonstration of Israeli Arabs in the heart of Tel Aviv, known as the first Hebrew city, but it also exposed the lingering duality of the Palestinian community, as it defines itself. Their show of force also demonstrated their isolation,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.

  • Shalev notes the fact that mainstream Israelis showed up to the Druze protest but shunned this one shows how they are viewed within Israeli society.
  • Addressing those like Labor head Avi Gabbay who refused to show up because of Palestinian national symbols, Meretz head Tamar Zandberg wrote on Facebook: “So there will be a flag or sign you don’t agree with. So fucking what.”
  • One person who was not afraid was Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken, who spoke at the rally, and whose broadsheet, the flagship paper of the Israeli left, reflects his view of the importance of the Arab-led rally.
  • The paper’s lead editorial chastises Gabbay and other members of Zionist Union for failing to show up, saying they earned a “badge of shame.”
  • “Those who rightly demonstrated against the law together with the Druze in that same square just a week earlier, yet decided to boycott a similar demonstration organized by the Arab community’s Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, missed an important opportunity to expand the protest. No excuse can obscure this,” the editorial reads.

5Swimming with sharks: The weekend saw mostly quiet on the Gaza border for a change, though Friday did see some protests and a massive fire kite managed to get tangled in the power lines of a kibbutz.

  • A picture of kids playing in a pool is used in Yedioth to represent the weekend of calm after a tense couple of days (though some may find the picture insensitive given the dire humanitarian situation and lack of clean drinking water just across the border.)
  • The calm is the fruits of Israel’s decision to reach yet another ceasefire with Hamas, despite loud protests from politicians and those on the right who see Israel as weak.
  • “Nothing has actually changed. Short of some sharp turn, which does not seem to be on the horizon, the shooting will return soon, and with it the chances for a wide operation,” writes Yoav Limor in Israel Hayom.
  • However, in Yedioth, Shimrit Meir, editor of the Arab-language al-Masdar, praises Netanyahu (a rare feat for that paper) for restraining himself rather than going to war: “One assumes we’ll have a traditional round of fighting for a few days or weeks and find ourselves picking up the phone for the Egyptian or Qatari mediator to scribble out a ceasefire. So why not just skip the days in the bomb shelters and billions spent on fighting and go straight to a long-term deal with Hamas?”

6Kill ’em all: In what may be a planned leak meant as a scare tactic to push Hamas to the table, or an actual leak of battle plans, Haaretz reports that Israel has put together a plot to assassinate Hamas’s leaders.

  • The paper writes that the army and Shin Bet see killing the top of the terror group as preferable to launching an all out-war, but notes that doing so could end up launching another round of fighting in any case, which is the understatement of the century.

7Cold Turkey: Though it has no horse in the race, Israel’s press is taking an interest in the Turkey-US spat.

  • Israel Hayom calls the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “empty threats” precipitated by the crash of the lira.
  • In Yedioth, Nadav Eyal calls Erdogan’s decision to threaten US President Donald Trump that he’ll start looking for new allies “the worst thing he could have done.”
  • “Those around Erdogan are trying to explain to him the terrible situation Turkey is in, and what unpopular steps he needs to take,” he writes.
  • Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el, meanwhile, doesn’t see much smart policy or strategy from either leader: “The fraught relations may resemble a chess game, but the two primary players, Trump and Erdogan, don’t have the patience or the temperament required of chess players. At the same time, they still have critical shared interests that could force a reconciliation.”