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…]
McClatchy reports: When Donald Trump named Steve Bannon his chief strategist, backlash from Jewish leaders was swift amid fears that the ex-Breitbart News boss would bring white nationalist sympathies to the White House.
So in one of his first interviews on the new job, Bannon tried to quiet those concerns by invoking something most people had never heard of: “Breitbart Jerusalem.”
It’s a line that Bannon and his allies have used repeatedly since his appointment, turning to the fledgling media operation as a shield against suggestions that he, and the administration by extension, are tolerant of anti-Semitism. It’s an accusation rooted in Bannon’s praise for the so-called “alt-right,” a movement associated with white supremacists and neo-Nazis. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: A monthslong wave of bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the United States that prompted evacuations, heightened security and fears of rising anti-Semitism gave way to an unexpected twist on Thursday: the person responsible for many of the threats, law enforcement officials said, was half a world away — a Jewish teenager in Israel.
An intensive investigation spanning multiple countries culminated on Thursday in the arrest of the 18-year-old suspect, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, and his father. The teenager’s lawyer said he suffered from a brain tumor that could affect his behavior.
The surge in threats over the past few months — well over 100 sent to Jewish community centers, schools and museums since the start of the year — coincided with an increase in hate crimes against a number of groups, from scrawled swastikas to homicides, feeding worries about a new era of bigotry. American and Israeli officials refused to say how many of the threats the Israeli suspect was accused of making. And some recent anti-Semitic acts were apparently committed by others, like threats against Jewish centers for which a Missouri man was charged, and the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries.
But officials made it clear that they considered the teenager as the primary source of the threats, though they did not offer a motive. “This is the guy we are talking about,” an Israeli police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said.
The suspect made threats to sites in Australia and New Zealand, as well as the United States, and to at least one commercial airline flight, prompting an emergency landing, Mr. Rosenfeld said. [Continue reading…]
Haaretz reports: Russia has sent a clear message to Israel that the rules of the game have changed in Syria and its freedom to act in Syrian skies is over, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations said on Sunday night.
“Putin sent a clear message,” said Bashar Jaafari, speaking on Syrian television. “The fact is that the Israeli ambassador [to Russia] was summoned for a conversation only a day after he submitted his credentials [to the Russian Foreign Ministry last Thursday], and was told categorically that this game is over.”
Syria’s use of anti-aircraft fire against Israel last Thursday night has changed the rules of the game, too, Jaafari said, adding that Syria will not stand idly by in the face of an Israeli threat.
He also claimed that when the civil war began in Syria in 2011, opposition militia groups sabotaged the anti-aircraft defense systems belonging to President Bashar Assad’s regime, giving Israel freedom to operate.
In a separate incident, Syrian media reported Sunday that the commander of a militia fighting alongside the regime was killed in an Israeli airstrike around Quneitra, in the Golan Heights.
The Lebanese TV channel Al Mayadeen, which is associated with Hezbollah, identified the casualty as Yasser Assayed, a member of the national defense militia. A source associated with the Assad regime said Assayad was a commander in the Golan brigade, a militia of Druze fighters (from villages in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights) who are fighting with the regime.
Between Thursday night and Friday morning, Israeli fighter jets attacked several targets in Syria, triggering the most serious clash between Israel and Syria since the civil war erupted six years ago. In response to the airstrikes, the Assad regime’s aerial defense system fired several missiles at the jets. Israel’s Arrow anti-missile defense system was launched, shooting down one of the missiles north of Jerusalem. The incident forced Israel to admit for the first time that it had launched an aerial attack in Syria.
Following that, Israel’s ambassador to Moscow, Gary Koren, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry for talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov – again, an unusual development. Since Russian forces began operating in Syria in 2015, there have been a number of airstrikes that foreign media have attributed to Israel. But the Israeli ambassador had never previously been called in to clarify Israel’s actions. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Fierce clashes broke out in the Syrian capital on Sunday after insurgents infiltrated government-held parts of the city through tunnels overnight in a rare advance after months of steady losses elsewhere in the country.
It was a surprising breach of the security perimeter in Damascus, where the government has effectively walled itself off from opposition forces encamped in two enclaves in the eastern parts of the city.
Bashar al-Assad’s government has endeavoured to maintain a veneer of normality in the capital as his forces bomb opposition areas on the edges and suburbs of the city.
Residents said artillery shells and rockets had landed in the heart of the city. Damascus Today, a Facebook group run by activists, reported government airstrikes in the area where the clashes took place.
Government infantry and tank reinforcements arrived to repel the attackers in the afternoon, the group said. [Continue reading…]
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…]
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…]
Ayman Odeh writes: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President Trump, presumably to discuss the political philosophy they share: power through hate and fear. A government that bars refugees and Muslims from entering the United States has much in common with one that permits Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians, as a new law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament last week did.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.
Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, yet only 2.5 percent of the state’s land is under Arab jurisdiction. And since the founding of the state, more than 700 new towns and cities have been built for Jews, while no new cities have been built for Arabs.
In Arab towns, the government has made building permits so difficult to obtain, and grants them so rarely, that many inhabitants have resorted to constructing new housing units on their properties without permits just to keep up with growing families that have nowhere else to go. As a result, Arab communities have become more and more densely populated, turning pastoral villages into concrete jungles. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said he was “optimistic” now that the “fool” US President Donald Trump is in the White House, presenting what Nasrallah described as new opportunities for the Lebanon-based terror group.
Nasrallah made the comments during a televised speech broadcast on the Hezbollah terror group’s affiliate satellite channel, al-Manar.
“Neither Trump nor any other of these racists will damage the faith of children and our elders,” he said. “We are very optimistic that when a fool settles in the White House and boasts about his foolishness, this is the beginning of relief for the oppressed around the world.”
“Trump revealed the true face of the ugly, racist and unjust US administration, and we thank him for that,” Nasrallah added. [Continue reading…]
VOA reports: Hezbollah hopes that Trump is so busy pursuing his “America first” policy that he will leave a lighter U.S. footprint in the Middle East, perhaps even setting the stage for a withdrawal from the region.
“The more the U.S. policy turns toward isolationism, the more relieved the world would be from its troubles,” Nawwaf Moussawi, a member of Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament, said last month.
Some analysts believe Hezbollah has reasons for optimism and that Trump’s possible policy in the region could, by default, strengthen the militant group.
“Trump’s reluctance toward the fight in Syria will practically provide more room for Hezbollah, a major player in Syria, to grow and flourish,” said U.K.-based Middle East scholar Scott Lucas, an editor at the EA Worldview research organization.
Others argue that Hezbollah doesn’t have the resources to create further instability in the region. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s tough talk on Iran is winning him friends in the Arab world, but it also carries a significant risk of conflict with a U.S. rival that is now more powerful than at any point since the creation of the Islamic republic nearly 40 years ago.
With its warning last week that Iran is “on notice,” the Trump administration signaled a sharp departure from the policies of President Barack Obama, whose focus on pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran eclipsed historic U.S. concerns about Iranian expansionism and heralded a rare period of detente between Washington and Tehran.
Many in the region are now predicting a return to the tensions of the George W. Bush era, when U.S. and Iranian operatives fought a shadow war in Iraq, Sunni-Shiite tensions soared across the region and America’s ally Israel fought a brutal war with Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Except that now the United States will be facing down a far stronger Iran, one that has taken advantage of the past six years of turmoil in the Arab world to steadily expand its reach and military capabilities. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Theresa May has resisted pressure to re-examine the viability of the international nuclear deal with Iran from her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged her to follow Donald Trump’s example by imposing fresh sanctions.
Netanyahu had said “responsible” countries should follow Trump in imposing new sanctions against Iran after it test-fired a ballistic missile. But May expressed her concern about Iran’s actions without saying there was a need for sanctions. [Continue reading…]
Julian Pecquet writes: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to get stung for too closely identifying with the new White House occupant. In a tweet published Saturday evening ahead of his Feb. 15 meeting with Trump, Netanyahu voiced support for the US president’s proposed wall with Mexico.
“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” said Netanyahu.
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea 🇮🇱🇺🇸
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 28, 2017
The tweet immediately caused a furor in Mexico, which is home to about 50,000 Jews and has good relations with Israel. Dozens of Mexican Jews canceled donations to the United Israel Appeal campaign, while Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray asked for an apology. [Continue reading…]
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…]
Akiva Eldar writes: Seeing the smiling face of Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, sitting comfortably in Moscow on Jan. 17 alongside senior Fatah official Azam al-Ahmed, it was hard not to recall the famous interview by Avigdor Liberman in April before his appointment as defense minister. In that interview, Liberman promised that if appointed, he would give Hamas 48 hours to hand over the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The Yisrael Beitenu chairman threatened that if Hamas failed to acquiesce to his demand, he would recommend to Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, that he book himself a plot at a nearby cemetery. As far as anyone can tell, Haniyeh is doing well after Liberman’s first eight months in office. On the other hand, the romance between Israel and Russia, which the Moldova-born politician did everything in his power to broker, is in very bad shape.
The photo of the two senior Palestinian leaders, which did not get the coverage by Israeli media that it merited, was taken at a news conference held after three days of talks among representatives of Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other factions under the auspices of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. One can understand Israeli editors’ decision to play down the final communique from the Moscow talks announcing agreement on forming a Palestinian government of national unity and setting a date for elections in the Israeli-occupied territories. There are not enough fingers to count the number of similar announcements that ended in nothing being done. One usually says of such contacts that their importance lies in the fact that they took place. In this case, the importance of the meeting is in its venue and timing.
The official invitation to Hamas representatives to visit Moscow and prior to that Russia’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted unanimously Dec. 23 and affirming the illegality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, constitute failures of Israeli foreign policy. One can add to these the delivery of Russian S-300 missiles to Iran, despite efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to thwart the deal. Russia supported the 2015 nuclear deal between the world powers and Iran and opposes Israel’s nuclear policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in September 2013 that Syria’s chemical weapons had been built in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons, and that given its technological superiority, Israel does not need to maintain nuclear weapons. Zvi Magen, former Israeli ambassador to Russia, even said that year that Russia is “dragging the Israeli nuclear issue into the Mideast negotiations” and that this could signal a “change in the Russian attitude to Israel.” [Continue reading…]
Ynet reports: Donald Trump’s upcoming inauguration as the next president of the United States is causing Israeli intelligence officials to lose sleep as well. Discussions held in closed forums recently raised fears of a leakage of Israeli intelligence top-classified information, clandestine modus oprandi and sources, which have been exposed to the American intelligence community over the past 15 years, to Russia – and from there to Iran.
The cause of concern are the suspicions of unreported ties between the president-elect or his associates and the Kremlin, whose agents are also associated with intelligence officials in Tehran.
These fears, which began upon Trump’s election, grew stronger following a meeting held recently between Israeli and American intelligence officials (the date of the meeting is not mentioned to protect the sources of the report). During the meeting, according to the Israelis who participated in it, their American colleagues voiced despair over Trump’s election, as he often lashes out at the American intelligence community. The American officials also told the Israelis that the National Security Agency (NSA) had “highly credible information” that Russia’s intelligence agencies, the FSB and GRU, were responsible for hacking the Democratic Party (DNC) servers during the elections and leaking sensitive information to WikiLeaks, which hurt Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The American officials further added that they believed Russia President Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump – but did not elaborate. They were apparently referring to what was published Wednesday about embarrassing information collected by the Russian intelligence in a bid to blackmail the president-elect.
The Americans implied that their Israeli colleagues should “be careful” as of January 20, Trump’s inauguration date, when transferring intelligence information to the White House and to the National Security Council (NSC), which is subject to the president. According to the Israelis who were present in the meeting, the Americans recommended that until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians. [Continue reading…]
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…]
The Guardian reports: An Israeli embassy official who plotted to “take down” MPs regarded as hostile has also set up a number of political organisations in the UK that operated as though entirely independent.
Shai Masot was filmed covertly as he boasted about establishing several groups, at least one of which was intended to influence Labour party policy, while appearing to obscure their links to Israel.
The disclosure comes as Labour demanded the government launch an immediate inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”. A former Tory government minister also called for an inquiry into the Israeli embassy’s links with two organisations, Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) and Labour Friends of Israel (LFI).
Meanwhile, Masot is being sent back to Israel in disgrace, and a civil servant and Conservative official who was also filmed discussing ways to discredit MPs has resigned from her post. [Continue reading…]