Netanyahu to form new Israeli government; US Congressmen visit Gaza

Netanyahu handed reins of a jittery Israel

A decade after being ousted by Israelis entranced by his then rival’s pledges of peace accords and modest governance, Benjamin Netanyahu has won a new lease on power over a country now more given to disaffection and fears of war.

President Shimon Peres on Friday handed him a mandate to form Israel’s next government, and the right-wing Likud leader now has 42 days to put together a coalition. He should manage that with like-minded allies, even if his appeal to centrist and left-wing rivals for a unity government falls on deaf ears. [continued…]

Mitchell: Palestinians’ financial buildup cannot replace diplomatic route

George Mitchell, the US special envoy to Mideast said Thursday that while the development of the West Bank’s economy remains important, it cannot take precedent to the diplomatic route.

Mitchell, who held a conference call with the heads of various Jewish groups in the United States, refrained from answering questions regarding the political situation in Israel, saying he would not address the subject before President Shimon Peres’ tasked one of the parties’ leaders with forming the government.

Although leading candidate Benjamin Netanyahu was not mentioned by name, Mitchell’s response was interpreted by those in attendance as hinting towards previous statements made by Netanyahu regarding the crucial role economic development would play in Palestinian society. [continued…]

As U.S. lawmakers visit, Mideast ponders what comes next

For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. lawmakers toured the isolated, battle-scarred Gaza Strip Thursday in a high-profile visit that came as the new Obama administration in Washington is developing its diplomatic priorities for the Middle East.

The short, separate tours by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and two other Democratic lawmakers marked the first time that high-level American officials have entered Gaza since the hard-line Islamist movement Hamas seized control of the Mediterranean coastal strip in 2007. [continued…]

Congressman Brian Baird views destruction in Gaza — calls for immediate relief and change in policy

Inquiring about the status of relief efforts, the Congressmen learned that some aid material has been allowed in since the intensity of the attacks lessened a month ago, but much is still being blocked by the Israeli defense forces. Examples of aid that has been banned by the Israeli Government include: lentils, macaroni, tomato paste, lentils and other food. Basic building materials, generator fuel and parts to repair damaged water treatment equipment have also been kept out.

“If this had happened in our own country, there would be national outrage and an appeal for urgent assistance. We are glad that the Obama administration acted quickly to send much needed funding for this effort but the arbitrary and unreasonable Israeli limitations on food and repair essentials is unacceptable and indefensible. People, innocent children, women and non-combatants, are going without water, food and sanitation, while the things they so desperately need are sitting in trucks at the border, being denied permission to go in” said Baird and Ellison.

The Congressmen’s concerns about treatment of Palestinians were not limited to Gaza. They also visited Palestinian hospitals that treat patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There they met with doctors, nurses and hospital directors who described how official Israeli policies and restricted border checkpoints make it exceedingly difficult and expensive for patients, nurses, medical technicians, and other essential personnel to reach the hospital to receive or provide care.

“It’s hard for anyone in our country to imagine how it must feel to have a sick child who needs urgent care or is receiving chemotherapy or dialysis, then be forced to take a needlessly lengthy route, walk rather than drive, and wait in lines as long as two hours simply to get to the hospital. As a health care professional myself, I found this profoundly troubling, no, actually it’s beyond that, it is outrageous,” said Baird. [continued…]

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