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…]
Reuters reports: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under police investigation for suspected corruption, was caught on tape negotiating mutual benefits with an arch-foe, the owner of one of Israel’s largest-selling newspapers, Israeli media reported on Sunday.
The report, which Israeli media outlets described as “an earthquake” that could have implications for Netanyahu’s political future, drew no immediate comment from the prime minister or Yedioth Ahronoth daily owner Noni Mozes.
Channel Two television said the right-wing leader had offered to limit the circulation of Israel Hayom, a free, pro-Netanyahu daily owned and published by U.S. billionaire and Republican party donor Sheldon Adelson, if Mozes’ Yedioth Ahronoth gave the prime minister more favorable coverage.
Steps to cut Israel Hayom’s market-leading circulation could have financial benefits for Mozes, whose newspaper’s advertising revenues have been hit by its free competitor.
It was unclear exactly when the reported conversation took place. The Haaretz daily said it occurred several months ago. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: An Israeli embassy official has been caught on camera in an undercover sting plotting to “take down” MPs regarded as hostile, including foreign office minister Sir Alan Duncan, an outspoken supporter of a Palestinian state.
In an extraordinary breach of diplomatic protocol, Shai Masot, who describes himself as an officer in the Israel Defence Forces and is serving as a senior political officer at the London embassy, was recorded by an undercover reporter from al-Jazeera’s investigative unit speaking about a number of British MPs.
The Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, apologised to Duncan on Friday. An Israeli spokesman said Regev made clear that “the embassy considered the remarks completely unacceptable”.
The Israeli embassy said Masot “will be ending his term of employment with the embassy shortly”. Masot declined to comment or to elaborate on what he meant when he said he wanted to “take down” a number of MPs. [Continue reading…]
Victor Gilinsky writes: Israel is absorbed with a “submarine scandal” that centers on improprieties in the award of a billion-dollar contract under which Israel would acquire three new advanced German submarines. (Germany has already delivered five of the subs, on a previous contract for six.) It came to light that the prime minister’s personal lawyer was on the payroll of the submarine builder, ThyssenKrupp. Then it turned out that Iran, which figures heavily in the motive for getting the submarines, owns 4.5 percent of ThyssenKrupp and so would gain a profit from their sale. On top of that, there is a Lebanese connection to the German builder, too. But the real scandal is that Germany supplies the submarines at all, and does so through a loophole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Everyone who pays attention to the subject understands that the submarines are built to carry long-range Israeli cruise missiles armed with nuclear weapons.
The German news magazine Der Spiegel laid out the details in a six-part 2012 series. The missiles’ range is about 1,500 kilometers, which brings Tehran within reach from the Mediterranean. As if to erase any doubts, in greeting the arrival of the latest submarine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it would be equipped with “advanced” Israeli systems that would be “used first and foremost to deter our enemies who strive to extinguish us. They must know that Israel is capable of hitting back hard against anyone who seeks to hurt us.” German government claims that they know nothing about the submarines’ nuclear role are more than a little ridiculous.
The United States has repeatedly insisted that it is committed to strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Here is a good place to begin. While the treaty prohibits nuclear weapon states (that is, the US, Russia, Britain, China, and France) from aiding any other state in obtaining nuclear weapons, and it prohibits the treaty’s non-nuclear weapon state members from receiving such aid, it does not specifically prohibit these other members from providing nuclear weapon-related assistance, including aid to non-members India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan, all of which now have nuclear weapons. [Continue reading…]
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…]
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…]