Israel should stop settlements, denying Palestinian development: Quartet report

Reuters reports: Israel should stop building settlements, denying Palestinian development and designating land for exclusive Israeli use that Palestinians seek for a future state, the Middle East peace “Quartet” recommended on Friday in a an eagerly awaited report.

The report by the Quartet entities sponsoring the stalled peace process – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – said the Israeli policy “is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution.”

“This raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state,” according to the eight-page report.

Amid a spike in violence, the Quartet criticized Palestinian leaders for “not consistently and clearly” condemning terrorist attacks and said illicit arms build up and militant activities in Gaza – controlled by Islamist group Hamas – must stop.

On Friday, an Israeli family car came under Palestinian gunfire near the Jewish settlement of Ottniel and crashed, killing a man, medics said. In the nearby city of Hebron, Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian woman who they said tried to stab one of them after she was detained.

Diplomatic sources said the report carries significant political weight as it has the backing of close Israeli ally the United States, which has struggled to revive the peace talks amid tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli president says Palestinian peace deal won’t happen any time soon

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel’s president warned that there was no prospect of a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future and urged the European Union to show patience and put its weight behind measures to facilitate future negotiations.

In a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday, Reuven Rivlin criticized France’s peace-conference initiative, launched earlier this month, which he said amounted to “negotiations for negotiations’ sake” and would only deepen divisions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Later in the day, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was also visiting Brussels, called the French peace push a “vital conference for our region and the whole world.”

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian negotiations fell apart in 2014 over disagreements on land swaps and prisoner exchanges. The White House has been working on options for reviving negotiations before President Barack Obama leaves office, although it isn’t clear whether the administration will launch new talks before January.

EU officials said Wednesday they were hoping that Mr. Abbas and Mr. Rivlin would meet and talk in Brussels. That would be the highest level meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership since the 2014 talks. No meeting had taken place by Wednesday evening, though Israeli officials said Mr. Rivlin was ready to meet Mr. Abbas “anytime, anywhere.” [Continue reading…]

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Tel Aviv mayor says the occupation is a cause of Palestinian terror

Edo Konrad writes: Tel Aviv-Jaffa Mayor Ron Huldai shocked many Israelis Thursday morning when he cited Israel’s occupation as one factor that leads Palestinians to turn to terrorism. Speaking on Army Radio about Wednesday’s deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv and reported celebrations of it in the West Bank and Gaza, Huldai argued that Israelis should focus instead on the fact that Israel is “perhaps the only country in the world holding another nation under occupation without civil rights.”

“On the one hand the occupation has lasted 49 years, and I took part in it,” Huldai told veteran journalist Ilana Dayan, “I recognize the reality and know that leaders with courage must look to take action and not just talk. The fact that we are suffering does not lead to a change in understanding of what must be done… There is no courage to do what needs to be done in order to reach a [peace] agreement.”

“There is no way to hold people in a situation of occupation and think that they will reach the conclusion that everything is okay and they will continue to live like that,” Huldai added. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

The Washington Post reports: A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs. [Continue reading…]

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Israel-Palestinian peace initiatives are suddenly popping up everywhere

The Washington Post reports: Until a week ago, it seemed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was a flat-liner.

President Obama thought so. In March, he said he wouldn’t seek to jump-start talks — the two sides were too far apart; it was not in the cards.

Now Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives are popping up all over.

On Friday, the French will host a meeting of about 25 foreign ministers, including Secretary of State John F. Kerry, to seek international consensus on a way to move talks forward.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Kerry was going to Paris to learn and listen — not to lead.

“It’s about being there, being part of the discussion, exploring ideas and options that might get us closer to a two-state solution,” Kirby said.

But Kerry’s presence in Paris worries Israelis who fear that the international community is going to press them to end the 49-year military occupation of the West Bank and the partial trade and travel blockage of Gaza, and to stop ongoing construction of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state.

The Israelis also have their eyes on the calendar. They are concerned that the Obama ­administration will, before leaving office, enshrine a two-state ­solution in a speech or a U.N. resolution, in effect laying out the final status ahead of negotiations.

Kerry spent nine months trying to bring the two sides together in 2014. The talks ended in recriminations about who was to blame for their failure.

Across the political spectrum in Ramallah and Jerusalem, nobody holds out much hope for the French effort.

French diplomats shrug and say in briefings with journalists, “We have to do something.”

In Israel, there is a feeling that something is happening.

Just this week, the once-moribund Arab Peace Initiative is back in the game after years on the sidelines.

Proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, the deal offers the idea that the Arab states will normalize relations with Israel after Israel withdraws from the occupied territories — including East Jerusalem — and begins the process of allowing for a Palestinian state.

Former Israeli governments have been hostile or lukewarm to the Arab proposal.

Former prime minister Ariel Sharon called the Arab Peace Initiative a “nonstarter” when it was proposed.

This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Arab peace offer intriguing. But Netanyahu also suggested that the Arab states recognize Israel first as Israel makes moves toward giving the Palestinians a state.

That will be a tough sell in the Arab League.

Into this mix comes former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has been shuttling between Egypt, the Arab Gulf states and the Israelis, trying to broker a way to get the sides talking.

Also intriguing, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi said in a recent speech that he thinks the time is ripe to revisit a deal between Israel and the ­Palestinians.

The French seem ready to press ahead with what they see as a solution to the conflict — including what borders should look like for a Palestinian state and whether Palestinians should have a capital in Jerusalem.

The French also may try to set deadlines for future talks. If their efforts fail, French diplomats have warned that they may unilaterally recognize a ­Palestinian state. [Continue reading…]

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Is another Gaza war imminent?

Shane Harris writes: Israel ended its last military operation in Gaza almost two years ago. But among some Israeli military officials, national security experts, and activists here, there is a palpable sense that another war is imminent, and that soon Hamas rockets will again be raining down on Israeli cities, prompting a crushing military response on the beleaguered, 25-mile long strip.

The signs, to hear these people tell it, are plain to see: Despite Israeli efforts to increase the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, its economic health remains desperate. Hamas militants also may be under pressure to move now to strike Israeli neighborhoods along the Gaza border before a network of tunnels that gave them free entry into Israel is sealed up. Recent Israeli intelligence suggests that Hamas fighters have closely studied Israeli tactics from the last war, possibly in preparation for another conflict. And Israel’s new defense minister, sworn in this week, has threatened to assassinate the leader of Hamas, in turn prompting him to dare Israel to enter Gaza again.

“The feeling is now we’re on a countdown. There’s going to be another war,” said Sharon Stav, with the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, an activist group whose members live in neighborhoods along the Gaza border and have been pressuring the Israeli government to find some diplomatic or humanitarian solution to the conflict with Hamas — anything short of another war. Stav and a colleague met with a delegation of U.S. and European visitors, which I joined, in the town of Netiv HaAsara, which came under daily rocket fire during the 2014 Gaza operations. The house where we met sits just feet from a guarded security barrier — a combination of concrete barricades and barbed wire fences — that seals Gaza off from Israel, at least above ground. [Continue reading…]

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Almost all of Israel’s 32 women in parliament have been sexually harassed or assaulted

The Washington Post reports: Out of 32 female members of Israel’s parliament, called the Knesset, 28 say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted, and at least two say those experiences occurred in the Knesset itself, according to a new survey by an Israeli television channel.

The survey comes two weeks after 17 French members of parliament signed a column denouncing widespread sexual harassment and impunity in their workplace. In December, the Israeli interior minister and vice premier, Silvan Shalom, resigned after almost a dozen women, including one of his former employees, came forward with allegations of sexual harassment or assault.

The survey gave the lawmakers a chance to speak publicly about the perils of being a woman in Israeli politics.

“Even today, the fact that I’m a single woman in the Knesset puts me in unpleasant situations,” said Merav Ben Ari, a Knesset member from the centrist Kulanu political party. “Sometimes people make comments. … I don’t want to elaborate, but there was a situation recently in the Knesset, and I took care of it.” [Continue reading…]

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Should Israel negotiate with Hamas?

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What will Netanyahu do with his expanded coalition?

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Report slams Israel’s military law enforcement system

Al Jazeera reports: Citing a raft of deep systemic failures, human rights group B’Tselem has announced that it will no longer cooperate with Israel’s military law enforcement system.

For the past 25 years, B’Tselem, which documents Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, has served as a “subcontractor” for the system by submitting complaints about soldiers’ alleged misconduct, gathering relevant documents and evidence, and requesting updates for affected Palestinian families.

While the goal was to help to bring justice to Palestinian victims and deter future misconduct, the reality has been the opposite, B’Tselem said in a scathing report released on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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Israel’s Netanyahu suspected of ‘criminal conduct’

Al Jazeera reports: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been criticised following a state comptroller report that concluded his financial records raise “suspicions of criminal conduct”.

Published on Tuesday, the State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s report noted that many of Netanyahu’s trips – including several with his family – were funded by foreign governments, public bodies and businessmen.

Netanyahu did not report any of the trips to government committees which determine whether the funding can be considered illegal gifts and thus a breach of Israeli law.

The report focuses on Netanyahu’s travels between 2002 and 2005, when he was the country’s finance minister.

“The trips by Netanyahu and his family that were funded by external sources when he was finance minister deviated from the rules, and could give the impression of receiving a gift or of a conflict of interest,” the report said.

Netanyahu, through his lawyers, has denied any wrongdoing, and it was not immediately clear whether Israel’s attorney general, who is also examining the issue, would launch any criminal investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Shake-up in Israeli politics prompts ‘seeds of fascism’ warning

Reuters reports: A military affairs commentator interrupts his broadcast to deliver a monologue: I’m alarmed by what’s happening in Israel, he says, I think my children should leave.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warns of “the seeds of fascism”. Moshe Arens, who served as defense minister three times, sees it as a turning point in Israeli politics and expects it to cause a “political earthquake”.

The past five days have produced tumult in Israeli politics, since conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly turned his back on a deal to bring the center-left into his coalition and instead joined hands with far-right nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, one of his most virulent critics.

Lieberman, a West Bank settler, wants to be defense minister. So on Friday, Netanyahu’s former ally and confidant, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, resigned and quit Netanyahu’s Likud party in disgust.

After a weekend to digest the developments, which are expected to be finalised in an agreement between Netanyahu and Lieberman on Monday to form the most right-wing government in Israel’s 68-year-old history, commentators have tried to put it in perspective and found themselves alarmed. [Continue reading…]

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Lieberman’s appointment as defense minister makes Israel’s government ‘the most right-wing ever’

John Lloyd writes: Israel is about to have “its most right-wing government, ever.”

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the far-right party Yisrael Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) has accepted Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer of the defense ministry. The Israeli prime minister’s offer returns to the cabinet a man who is a past foreign minister and whose vision for the future strains the right-wing limits of Israel’s wildly divided political spectrum.

Israeli politicians are mostly horrified by the appointment. Benny Begin, son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin and a longstanding member of Netanyahu’s own Likud Party, said that Netanyahu had acted irresponsibly and “dangerously.” Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union (a joint party composed of Herzog’s Labor Party and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah) and who had actively sought his own place in the cabinet, said the policies now pursued would “verge on insanity.”[Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: In a press conference Friday, [Moshe] Yaalon [who resigned as defense minister today], a fellow member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, warned that Israel was drifting dangerously toward extremism.

“I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and trickling into the armed forces, hurting it already,” he said.

Yaalon appeared to be referring to widespread support by Israeli leaders for a combat medic who shot to death a wounded Palestinian attacker as he lay on a street in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.

Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv and proclaimed the soldier a hero. Israeli human rights activists called it a cold-blooded execution. The killing was captured on video. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A former chief of Israel’s armed forces, Yaalon had shored up relations with the Pentagon that provided a counter-weight to Netanyahu’s policy feuds with U.S. President Barack Obama over peace talks with the Palestinians and Iran’s nuclear program.

By contrast, Lieberman – whose appointment has not yet been confirmed – is inexperienced militarily and famed for his past hawkish talk against Palestinians, Israel’s Arab minority and Egypt – an important regional security partner for Israel.

An Egyptian official told Reuters on Thursday that Cairo was “shocked” at the prospect of Lieberman as Israeli defense minister.

Washington struck a more optimistic note on Friday. While praising Yaalon, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington looked forward to working with his successor.

“Our bonds of friendship are unbreakable and our commitment to the security of Israel remains absolute,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Israel plans to expand ‘Iron Dome’ to warships to protect offshore facilities

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel on Wednesday said it plans to expand a key missile-defense system to warships, in a bid to protect the country’s lucrative offshore gas fields amid growing aerial threats from regional adversaries.

Israel’s military said it had successfully tested a naval version of its land-based Iron Dome system in recent weeks and would begin deploying it on its newest frigates to protect the country’s strategic assets, including its gas rigs.

The naval system is a combination of the land-based Iron Dome missile interceptor and radar systems on ships, the military said. “We call it the Iron Dome of the sea,” Col. Ariel Shir, head of operational systems in the Israeli navy, told reporters on a phone call.

Israel’s land-based Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts short-range rockets and has become a bedrock of the country’s defense since its introduction in 2011.

The ship-based Iron Dome system would augment a combination of land-based systems that Israel has jointly developed with the U.S., and that it hopes will provide a layered defense against a variety of short range missile threats to those capable of flying more than 600 miles. [Continue reading…]

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The map ISIS hates

sykes-picot

In 2014, Malise Ruthven wrote: When the jihadists of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the earthen barrier that forms part of the frontier between Syria and Iraq, they announced — triumphantly — that they were destroying the “Sykes-Picot” border. The reference to a 1916 Franco-British agreement about the Middle East may seem puzzling, coming from a radical group fighting a brutal ethnic and religious insurgency against Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraq. But jihadist groups have long drawn on a fertile historical imagination, and old grievances about the West in particular.

This symbolic action by ISIS fighters against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which one of the most radical groups fighting in the Middle East today is nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when the Ottoman Empire and Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm from North Africa to the Persian Gulf and the Shias knew their place. (Indeed, the Arabic name of ISIS — al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham — refers to a historic idea of the greater Levant (al-Sham) that transcends the region’s modern, Western-imposed state borders.)

But why is Sykes-Picot so important? One reason is that it stands near the beginning of what many Arabs view as a sequence of Western betrayals spanning from the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in World War I to the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Sykes-Picot agreement — named after the British and French diplomats who signed it — was entered in secret, with Russia’s assent, in May 1916 to divide the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire into British and French “spheres of influence.” It designated each power’s areas of future control in the event of victory by the Triple Entente over Germany, Austria, and their Ottoman ally. Under the agreement Britain was allocated the coastal strip between the Mediterranean and the river Jordan, Transjordan and southern Iraq, with enclaves including the ports of Haifa and Acre, while France was allocated south-eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, all of Syria and Lebanon. Russia was to get Istanbul, the Dardanelles, and the Ottoman Empire’s Armenian districts.

Under the 1920 San Remo agreement, which built on Sykes-Picot, the Western powers were free to decide on state boundaries within these areas. The international frontiers — with Iraq’s framed by the merging of the three Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra — were consolidated by the separate mandates granted by the League of Nations to France in Lebanon and Syria, and to Britain in Palestine, Transjordan, and Iraq. The frontier between French-controlled Syria and British-controlled Iraq included the desert of Anbar province that was bulldozed by ISIS this month.

Kept hidden for more than a year, the Anglo-French pact caused a furor when it was first revealed by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Russian Revolution — with the Syrian Congress, convened in July 1919, demanding “the full freedom and independence that had been promised to us.” Not only did the agreement map out — unbeknownst to the Arab leaders of the time — a new system of Western control of local populations. It also directly contradicted the promise that Britain’s man in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, had made to the ruler of Mecca, the Sharif Hussein, that he would have an Arab kingdom in the event of Ottoman defeat. In fact, that promise itself, which had been conveyed in McMahon’s correspondence with the Sharif between July 1915 and January 1916, left ambiguous the borders of the future Arab state, and was later used to deny Arab control of Palestine. McMahon had excluded from the proposed Arab kingdom “portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo [that] cannot be said to be purely Arab.” This clause led to lengthy and bitter debates as to whether Palestine — which Britain meanwhile promised as a homeland for Jews under the terms of the November 1917 Balfour Declaration — could be defined as lying “west” of the vilayet, or district, of Damascus. [Continue reading…]

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