‘Last secret’ of 1967 war: Israel’s plan to use nuclear weapons

The New York Times reports: On the eve of the Arab-Israeli war, 50 years ago this week, Israeli officials raced to assemble an atomic device and developed a plan to detonate it atop a mountain in the Sinai Peninsula as a warning to Egyptian and other Arab forces, according to an interview with a key organizer of the effort that will be published Monday.

The secret contingency plan, called a “doomsday operation” by Itzhak Yaakov, the retired brigadier general who described it in the interview, would have been invoked if Israel feared it was going to lose the 1967 conflict. The demonstration blast, Israeli officials believed, would intimidate Egypt and surrounding Arab states — Syria, Iraq and Jordan — into backing off.

Israel won the war so quickly that the atomic device was never moved to Sinai. But Mr. Yaakov’s account, which sheds new light on a clash that shaped the contours of the modern Middle East conflict, reveals Israel’s early consideration of how it might use its nuclear arsenal to preserve itself.

“It’s the last secret of the 1967 war,” said Avner Cohen, a leading scholar of Israel’s nuclear history who conducted many interviews with the retired general.

Mr. Yaakov, who oversaw weapons development for the Israeli military, detailed the plan to Dr. Cohen in 1999 and 2000, years before he died in 2013 at age 87.

“Look, it was so natural,” said Mr. Yaakov, according to a transcription of a taped interview. “You’ve got an enemy, and he says he’s going to throw you to the sea. You believe him.”

“How can you stop him?” he asked. “You scare him. If you’ve got something you can scare him with, you scare him.”

Israel has never acknowledged the existence of its nuclear arsenal, in an effort to preserve “nuclear ambiguity” and forestall periodic calls for a nuclear-free Middle East. In 2001, Mr. Yaakov was arrested, at age 75, on charges that he had imperiled the country’s security by talking about the nuclear program to an Israeli reporter, Ronen Bergman, whose work was censored. At various moments, American officials, including former President Jimmy Carter long after he left office, have acknowledged the existence of the Israeli program, though they have never given details. [Continue reading…]

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The past 50 years of Israeli occupation. And the next

Nathan Thrall writes: Three months after the 1967 war, Israel’s ruling Mapai Party held a discussion on the future of the newly conquered territories. Golda Meir, who would become Israel’s leader a year and a half later, asked Prime Minister Levi Eshkol what he planned to do with the more than one million Arabs now living under Israeli rule.

“I get it,” Mr. Eshkol jokingly replied. “You want the dowry, but you don’t like the bride!” Mrs. Meir responded, “My soul yearns for the dowry, and to let someone else take the bride.”

On this 50th anniversary of the war, it is clear that over the half-century that followed, Israel managed to fulfill Mrs. Meir’s wish, keeping control of the land indefinitely without wedding itself to the inhabitants. This resilient and eminently sustainable arrangement, so often mischaracterized as a state of limbo assumed to be temporary, has stood on three main pillars: American backing, Palestinian weakness and Israeli indifference. Together, the three ensure that for the Israeli government, continuing its occupation is far less costly than the concessions required to end it. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinians for Trump: ‘He might be the one’

Politico reports: The Qalandia checkpoint, the main border crossing separating this Palestinian city from East Jerusalem, is not a great place for anyone in a hurry.

On a recent hot afternoon, all passage was halted without explanation as hundreds of Palestinians with permits to work, study or seek medical treatment in Israel—or who actually live there—were packed into a maze of thick iron cages surrounded by barbed wire and monitored by guard towers waiting to be searched, interrogated and, for many, once again humiliated.

After a lengthy delay, small groups were permitted through the turnstiles into the screening areas—some only after being among the unlucky temporarily locked between the heavy revolving bars by an unseen Israeli soldier in an armored guard station with tiny blast-resistant windows.

Though as an accredited American journalist I could have used a speedier route for my return to Jerusalem, I opted to pass through the checkpoint to experience it for myself. Countless Palestinians use the border crossing each day—a procedure Israeli officials say is necessary, like the physical barrier that cuts off much of the West Bank, to prevent terrorism. (The next day, a Palestinian woman stabbed an Israeli soldier at the same checkpoint, one in a recent spate of lone-wolf attacks.)

The daily routine at Qalandia is also a metaphor for the fits and starts of the long struggle to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—which, measured by Israel’s control of the West Bank and Gaza, will reach the milestone next month of half a century on the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War.

But there is new glimmer of hope here that things can get moving: Donald Trump.

Trump will welcome Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to the White House on Wednesday ahead of his own planned official visit to the region later this month. In my conversations here with Palestinian officials, I found them surprisingly upbeat about an American president who came to office vowing to crack down on Muslim immigration and who has backed away from longtime U.S. support for a two-state solution.

“The hints are very positive,” General Jibril Rajoub, a member of the central committee of Fatah, the moderate wing of the Palestinian leadership, told me over lunch in late April in a trendy restaurant, Caspar and Gambini’s, on Ramallah’s Al Jihad Street.

A senior Palestinian official, in one of a series of interviews with Politico Magazine, put it this way: “He might be the one to bring the political settlement.”

It is a sense of optimism that virtually no one here anticipated—and one that feels genuine, if also calculated to get into the good graces of the new American leader. Trump’s personal chemistry with hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the pro-settler views of his new ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, were both seen as early omens that the new American president would have little, if any, interest in the Palestinian issue and might even encourage more Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

But Rajoub, an urbane diplomat who runs the Palestinian Football Federation and was a longtime adviser to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, said the quiet but seemingly earnest visits to Ramallah in recent months of CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Jason Greenblatt, the New York lawyer serving as a Trump envoy, were surprisingly positive. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas leader plays final hand

The New York Times reports: In the violent flux of the Middle East, Khaled Meshal is one of the great survivors. Down the years other senior figures in Hamas, the Islamist militant group that resists Israel, have died in hotel rooms at the hands of Israeli assassins or been crushed by laser-guided missiles during the wars in Gaza.

Mr. Meshal, who spent his career shifting from one Arab capital to another, had his own close scrape: In 1997, a year after he became the leader of Hamas, Israeli spies sprayed poison into his ear on a street in Jordan, sending Mr. Meshal into a coma and setting off an angry diplomatic showdown between Jordan and Israel that ended with the delivery of a lifesaving antidote.

Now Mr. Meshal is stepping down as the senior leader, ending a 21-year reign during which Hamas grew into a formidable military force and also joined politics to rule Gaza for the past decade. Yet it has become an international pariah for its attacks on civilians.

Mr. Meshal’s parting shot is a new political document, released at a luxury hotel in Doha on Monday, that he is pitching as an attempt to pull Hamas from its isolation by presenting a friendlier face to the world.

A big part of that is its watering down of the anti-Semitic language of the original Hamas charter in 1988, with its talk of war between Arabs and Jews. “We are making it clear that ours is a liberation project — not about religion or the Jews,” Mr. Meshal said in an interview on Tuesday in Doha, his latest home.

His offer found few takers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel immediately rejected the overture as an exercise in insincerity. “Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” his spokesman said Monday. Hamas is loathed in Israel for bombings and rockets launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, and critics say the group spends too much money preparing for war and not enough on Gaza’s besieged residents.

The document was also greeted with silence by Western countries, a reflection of the fact that Hamas failed to bend on any of the factors that have caused it to be branded a terrorist organization — and has not even formally repudiated the 1988 charter, with its talk of “obliterating” Israel and creating an Islamic State on “every inch” of historic Palestine.

The failure to achieve even that cosmetic gesture offers a telling indication of how Hamas is hamstrung by its own deep-seated ambivalence toward reform, said Nathan Thrall, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who is based in Jerusalem, who noted that the original charter has long been a source of quiet embarrassment among more reform-minded Hamas leaders.

“On one hand, they are attempting to appeal to hard-liners by not giving up their core principles,’’ said Mr. Thrall, the author of a forthcoming book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “The Only Language They Understand.’’

“On the other, people like Meshal were hoping the document could lead to openings with Sunni Arab states and the West. It attempts to please everyone, and in so doing pleases no one.” [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years

BBC News reports: Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.

The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as “Geulat Zion”, near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.

Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene.

It comes despite US President Donald Trump asking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month to “hold back” on settlement construction. [Continue reading…]

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New Hamas charter would name ‘occupiers,’ not ‘Jews,’ as the enemy

The New York Times reports: Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that has governed the Gaza Strip for a decade, is drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Hamas officials confirmed on Thursday.

The document would represent a departure from the group’s contentious 1988 charter, in which it promised to “obliterate” Israel and characterized its struggle as specifically against Jews. The new document defines Hamas’s enemies as “occupiers.”

“It means that we don’t fight Jews because they are Jews,” said Taher el-Nounou, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. “Our struggle is only against those who occupied our lands.”

The new document would accept borders of the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war as the basis for a Palestinian state. It would not recognize Israel, however, nor would it give up future claims to all of what Hamas considers Palestinian lands.

Mr. Nounou said the document, the result of four years of work, is not yet final and has not yet been approved by Hamas’s governing bodies. Nor are its contents wholly new, even though they seem now to carry both practical and symbolic weight, particularly in Hamas’s relations with Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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‘Worst view in the world’: Banksy opens hotel overlooking Bethlehem wall

The Guardian reports: The Walled Off hotel may sound utilitarian, even bleak. Its owner says it has “the worst view of any hotel in the world”, while its 10 rooms get just 25 minutes of direct sunlight a day.

But, nestled against the controversial barrier wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories, the West Bank’s answer to the Waldorf offers travellers something more elusive than any luxury destination.

The lodging in Bethlehem is a hotel, museum, protest and gallery all in one, packed with the artworks and angry brilliance of its owner, British street artist Banksy. [Continue reading…]

 

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U.S. ambassador to UN contradicts Trump’s position on two-state solution

The Guardian reports: The US ambassador to the United Nations has insisted that Washington “absolutely” supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, 24 hours after Donald Trump dropped US commitment to the policy.

The conflicting messages coming out of the new US administration reflected policy chaos in a week when the national security adviser was forced to resign over his contacts with Russia, and factions inside the White House continue to vie for dominance.

In Bonn, the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, emerged from his first meeting with the new US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to describe the Trump administration’s Middle East policy as “confused and worrying”.

Ayrault pointed to Trump’s remarks in a joint appearance with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he explicitly abandoned the two decades-long US commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a final peace deal.

“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like,” Trump said. “I can live with either one.”

After his meeting with Tillerson at the sidelines of a G20 meeting, Ayrault said: “I wanted to remind him after the meeting between Donald Trump and Netanyahu that in France’s view, there are no other options other than the perspective of a two-state solution and that the other option which Tillerson brought up was not realistic, fair or balanced.”

He did not give details about the option that Tillerson raised and the secretary of state did not take press questions, but he appears to have echoed Trump’s remarks suggesting other outcomes would be acceptable to the US. [Continue reading…]

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Trump ready to abandon U.S. support for the creation of a Palestinian state

Al Jazeera reports: US President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, their first meeting since the inauguration and one that could shape policy in the region for years ahead.

Trump and Netanyahu are likely to discuss peace efforts between Israel and Palestine, as well as expanding settlements, the Iran nuclear deal and the war in Syria.

Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that would infuriate Palestinians and the Muslim world, will also be a discussion point.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was working to achieve a comprehensive agreement ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The way forward toward that goal will also be discussed between the president and the prime minister,” he said.

Trump, who is relentlessly pro-Israel and has repeatedly spoken disparagingly about Palestinians has challenged the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state.

On Tuesday, a White House official said that Trump supported the goal of peace between the Israel and the Palestinians, even if it does not involve the two-state solution. [Continue reading…]

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Trump embraces pillars of Obama’s foreign policy

The New York Times reports: President Trump, after promising a radical break with the foreign policy of Barack Obama, is embracing some key pillars of the former administration’s strategy, including warning Israel to curb settlement construction, demanding that Russia withdraw from Crimea and threatening Iran with sanctions for ballistic missile tests.

In the most startling shift, the White House issued an unexpected statement appealing to the Israeli government not to expand the construction of Jewish settlements beyond their current borders in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Such expansion, it said, “may not be helpful in achieving” the goal of peace.

At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki R. Haley declared that the United States would not lift sanctions against Russia until it stopped destabilizing Ukraine and pulled troops out of Crimea.

On Iran, the administration is preparing economic sanctions similar to those the Obama administration imposed just over a year ago. The White House has also shown no indication that it plans to rip up Mr. Obama’s landmark nuclear deal, despite Mr. Trump’s withering criticism of it during the presidential campaign.

New administrations often fail to change the foreign policies of their predecessors as radically as they promised, in large part because statecraft is so different from campaigning. And of course, today’s positions could shift over time. There is no doubt the Trump administration has staked out new ground on trade and immigration, upending relations with Mexico and large parts of the Muslim world in the process.

But the administration’s reversals were particularly stark because they came after days of tempestuous phone calls between Mr. Trump and foreign leaders, in which he gleefully challenged diplomatic orthodoxy and appeared to jeopardize one relationship after another. [Continue reading…]

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Trump warns Israel: stop announcing new settlements

The Jerusalem Post reports: The White House warned Israel on Thursday – in a surprising statement – to cease settlement announcements that are “unilateral” and “undermining” of President Donald Trump’s effort to forge Middle East peace, a senior administration official told The Jerusalem Post.

For the first time, the administration confirmed that Trump is committed to a comprehensive two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict negotiated between the parties.

The official told the Post that the White House was not consulted on Israel’s unprecedented announcement of 5,500 new settlement housing units over the course of his first two weeks in office. [Continue reading…]

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For hardline West Bank settlers, Jared Kushner’s their man

Reuters reports: For many in the Israeli settlement of Bet El, deep in the occupied West Bank, Donald Trump’s choice of Jared Kushner as his senior adviser on the Middle East is a sign of politics shifting in their favor.

They regard Kushner, whose family’s charitable foundation has donated tens of thousands of dollars to their settlement, as part of a diplomatic rebalancing after what they view as eight years of anti-Israel bias under the U.S. administration of Barack Obama.

“He will stand up for our interests. I suppose he will lean in our favor,” said Avi Lavi, 46, who has lived in Bet El for more than 40 years. “He’ll be fair, as opposed to Obama, whose policy leaned always towards the Arabs.”

New U.S. President Trump says his son-in-law Kushner, 36, is capable of brokering the “ultimate deal” to deliver peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Roi Margalit, manager of the Bet El Yeshiva, a seminary complex with around 400 students, said Kushner, an Orthodox Jewish father of three, understood the position of Israeli settlers better than previous envoys.

“At least now we have someone who knows us,” the 43-year-old added. “He will now have to study the other side (the Palestinians) and see if there is any common ground.”

Trump’s pick for Israeli ambassador has sparked particular enthusiasm in the community: David Friedman, who chairs the American Friends of Bet El Institutions fundraising group. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu thinks a ‘state-minus’ is enough for the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A few hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone with President Trump on Sunday, the Israeli leader huddled behind closed doors with his security cabinet.

Ministers on his hard-right pressed Netanyahu to publicly proclaim the “two-state solution” dead.

The Israeli leader refused but told his raucous cabinet not to worry. Netanyahu said he did not support a full Palestinian state, but “a state-minus,” according to Israeli reports on the meeting.

In the days since, Israelis, Palestinians and American diplomats have been struggling to define what Netanyahu might have meant by “a state-minus.”

State-minus is clearly shorthand for how Netanyahu sees his bottom-line position to the decades-long conflict here, including the thorniest of thorny issues — who controls Jerusalem, with its shrines holy to three world religions.

But shorthand for what? [Continue reading…]

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Israel approves settlement homes following Trump inauguration

BBC News reports: srael has approved hundreds of new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, after the staunch pro-Israel US President Donald Trump took office.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman told AFP: “Now we can finally build.”

Israel’s PM reportedly delayed approval given the opposition of Barack Obama, who infuriated Israel by allowing a UN resolution against settlements to pass.

Settlements in East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Mr Trump had invited him to a meeting in Washington in February, on a date yet to be decided. [Continue reading…]

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At Paris meeting, major powers to warn Trump over Middle East peace

Reuters reports: Major powers will send a message to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Sunday that a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is the only way forward, and warn that his plan to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem could derail peace efforts.

Some 70 countries, including key European and Arab states as well as the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, are due in Paris for a meeting that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected as “futile” and “rigged”. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will be represented.

But, just five days before Trump is sworn in, the conference provides a platform for countries to send a strong signal to the future American leader. [Continue reading…]

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In Paris, the world will try one more time to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict

The Washington Post reports: Poor, belittled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has pulled off a remarkable feat.

On Sunday, top diplomats from as many as 70 nations are gathering in Paris to show their support for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Abbas hasn’t won his people a sovereign nation. Not even close.

But with all the challenges facing the world, the international community has accepted the invitation of French President François Hollande to come together again and urge Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hammer out a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict. [Continue reading…]

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