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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PLO threatens to revoke recognition of Israel if U.S. embassy moves to Jerusalem

The Guardian reports: Senior Palestinian officials have warned that the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s recognition of Israel – one of the key pillars of the moribund Oslo peace agreements – is in danger of being revoked if Donald Trump moves the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

The Palestinian leadership is also calling for protests in mosques and churches on Friday and Sunday to object to the move, calling for opposition to the plan “from Pakistan to Tehran, from Lebanon to Oman”.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem is highly contentious as it would recognise Israel’s exclusive claim to the city, most of which was annexed illegally after the 1967 war. The Palestinians also see it as their future capital. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu calls for pardon of convicted soldier Azaria

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for a pardon of Elor Azaria, the Israeli soldier found guilty of manslaughter after he shot and killed a wounded Palestinian last year.

“This is a difficult and painful day – first and foremost for Elor, his family, Israel’s soldiers, many citizens and parents of soldiers, among them me … I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria,” Netanyahu said Wednesday on his Facebook page.

The country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who has the authority to issue pardons, said he will wait for the legal process to run its course before making a decision.

“In the event that a pardon should be requested, it will be considered by the president in accordance with standard practices and after recommendations from the relevant authorities,” he said in presidential statement.

The remarks were made just hours after Azaria was convicted on Wednesday in the high-profile case that raised questions over rules of engagement towards perceived threats by Palestinians.

A judge read out the court’s decision for more than two hours before announcing the verdict. The 20-year-old soldier could now face a maximum 20 years in prison. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: David Enoch, a professor in the faculty of law and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said that the trial and public debate surrounding it marked a “horrible deterioration in Israeli society.”

“It’s not as if racism or violence against Palestinians is new, but at least in the past there were attempts to be civilized. There was at least some sanity,” Enoch said. “Now, many of those asking for Azaria to be pardoned have not mistaken the facts of the case. They just see an Israeli Jewish soldier shooting a Palestinian terrorist, and they don’t care about anything else.”

Even before the verdict was read, some Israeli leaders, including senior government ministers, called for the soldier to be pardoned.

“He should not sit one day in jail. We expect the defense minister to stick to his promises and initiate an immediate amnesty for Azaria,” read a statement from the far-right Jewish Home party, headed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: An Israeli advocacy group on Tuesday criticized what it called an “exceptionally low” prosecution rate by the Israeli military in cases of violence committed by soldiers against Palestinians.

The report by Yesh Din, a human rights group that is often critical of the Israeli military, came a day before a military court’s verdict is to be delivered in a high-profile manslaughter case against a soldier.

In its annual report, Yesh Din said the army opened 186 criminal investigations into suspected offenses against Palestinians in 2015, but just four of those investigations yielded indictments. The group said the 2015 figures, based on official army data, were the most recent available.

In the fall of 2015, a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence erupted, characterized by Palestinian stabbing and car-ramming attacks on Israelis. The report said that of 76 Palestinians killed in clashes with soldiers in the West Bank in 2015, only 21 deaths resulted in investigations.

“The fact that in 55 incidents no criminal investigation was considered necessary raises doubts about the implementation of Israel’s declared policy on investigating civilian fatalities,” the report said. It said the data signaled an “inability and unwillingness” to address unlawful conduct. [Continue reading…]

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Republican senators introduce bill to move U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

The Guardian reports: Three Republican senators have introduced legislation to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, a plan backed by Donald Trump but likely to ignite fierce protests.

After being sworn into the 115th Congress in Washington, Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada and Marco Rubio of Florida unveiled the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act.

Similar moves by Republican majorities over the past two decades have come to nought, but this time they have a sympathetic president-elect in Trump. He has repeatedly pledged to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem and nominated a US ambassador who shares that view.

Critics warn that the move could unleash a wave of violence and further rattle the Israel-Palestine peace process and the future of a two-state solution. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli settlements grew on Obama’s watch. They may be poised for a boom on Trump’s

The Washington Post reports: Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped.

Thousands of homes were built. Miles of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping malls. A university.

Here in Shiloh, a tourist center went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God.

Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration.

But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling.

And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.

Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has signaled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of U.S. policy and end American objections to the settlements. [Continue reading…]

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